The US operated a secret prison in Afghanistan as recently as last year, torturing detainees by chaining them to walls and forcing them to listen to loud music in total darkness for days, a human rights group alleged yesterday.
The prison was run near Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report based on the testimony of several detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who said they were held there.
CIA officials have not commented on various allegations of torture, but US Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday denied that the US engaged in torture.
"I can say that we, in fact, are consistent with the commitments of the United States that we don't engage in torture, and we don't," Vice Cheney said in an interview to be broadcast yesterday on ABC News "Nightline." Cheney was not responding directly to the Human Rights Watch report, but to questions about anti-torture legislation before Congress.
According to the report, the detainees were kept in total darkness -- they called the facility "Dark Prison" -- and were tortured and mistreated by US and Afghan guards in civilian clothes, suggesting it might have been operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.
"They were chained to walls, deprived of food and drinking water, and kept in total darkness with loud rap, heavy metal music, or other sounds blared for weeks at a time," the report said. "Some detainees said they were shackled in a manner that made it impossible to lie down or sleep, with restraints that caused their hands and wrists to swell up or bruise."
Human Rights Watch did not speak with the detainees directly because the US has not allowed human rights organizations to visit detainees at Guantanamo or other detention sites abroad.
Instead, the testimony regarding the alleged prison was made by the detainees to their lawyers, who passed it on to the rights watchdog.
"Human Rights Watch believes that the detainees' allegations are sufficiently credible to warrant an official investigation," the report said.
"We're not talking about torture in the abstract, but the real thing," said John Sifton, terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch. "US personnel and officials may be criminally liable, and a special prosecutor is needed to investigate."
The report said that Benyam Mohammad, an Ethiopian-born Guantanamo detainee who grew up in Britain, claimed he was held at the facility last year.
"It was pitch black, no lights on in the rooms for most of the time," he was quoted as telling his lawyer. "They hung me up. I was allowed a few hours of sleep on the second day, then hung up again, this time for two days."
He went on to say that he was forced to listen to Eminem and Dr. Dre for 20 days before the music was replaced by "horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds."
"The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night," he was quoted as saying. "Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off."
The report said the prison was closed after several detainees were transferred to a US military detention center near Bagram, just north of Kabul, late last year.
The US' handling of its detainees has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks.
Khaled al-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, is suing the CIA for wrongful imprisonment and torture, saying he was seized in Macedonia on Dec. 31, 2003, and taken by CIA agents to Afghanistan, where he was allegedly abused before being released in Albania in May last year.