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Afghanistan: U.S. General To Investigate Detention Centers

  • Ron Synovitz --> A U.S. brigadier general is to investigate U.S.-led coalition detention centers across Afghanistan in response to allegations of abuse of Afghan detainees by their U.S. captors. Officials in Washington say they are now investigating the deaths of at least five Afghans at U.S. detention centers in the country.

Prague, 24 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. military has named its deputy operational commander at the Bagram air field in Afghanistan to conduct what it is calling a "top-to-bottom" review of U.S. prisons in the country.

U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Tucker Mansager said Brigadier General Charles Jacoby will visit some 20 secret detention facilities across Afghanistan and deliver a report on conditions there by mid-June. "Lieutenant General David Barno, Combined Forces Command Afghanistan commander, has directed a top-to-bottom, general officer-led review and assessment of all coalition detention and holding operations in Afghanistan. The appointed general will physically visit every facility to ensure internationally accepted standards of handling detainees are being met," Mansager said.

Mansager said Jacoby also will report on whether interrogation procedures across Afghanistan are being conducted "in accordance with the spirit" of the Geneva Conventions.
In Washington, a senior U.S. military official told reporters on condition of anonymity that the deaths of at least five Afghans at detention centers in Afghanistan are now under investigation.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has repeatedly stated that the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war do not apply to hundreds of Al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects being held across Afghanistan and at a U.S.-run prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Washington says those detainees are "unlawful combatants" who do not belong to any conventional army or represent any state. Nevertheless, Rumsfeld has said that the United States would respect "the spirit" of the Geneva Conventions.

In Washington, a senior U.S. military official told reporters on condition of anonymity that the deaths of at least five Afghans at detention centers in Afghanistan are now under investigation.

Two of those deaths occurred at Bagram in December 2002 and have been ruled homicides by U.S. military doctors who conducted autopsies. The inspector-general for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is looking into the death of an Afghan detainee during June of last year at a holding center in the eastern province of Kunar. Another case under scrutiny involved a detainee in the southern province of Helmand whose death last November has been attributed to "multiple blunt-force injuries." In a fifth case, a U.S. prison guard reportedly told investigators that he shot and killed an Afghan detainee because the prisoner had tried to lunge toward a weapon.

Inspectors from the International Committee of the Red Cross have been allowed to visit the main prison at Bagram, to the north of Kabul, since the two deaths there in late 2002. But the U.S. military's criminal investigation into those deaths has lasted for 16 months without the release of preliminary findings or any order for disciplinary measures against military personnel or civilian interrogators. The conclusions by the Red Cross inspectors about the Bagram prison deaths have not been made public.

Mansager said the U.S. military command is still considering a request by Red Cross inspectors to visit a detention center at the Kandahar air field in southern Afghanistan. So far, the U.S. military has denied all requests by journalists to visit any of its detention centers in Afghanistan. It also has refused to allow visits by human rights groups like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, or even the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, which was created under the internationally backed Bonn accords to serve as an independent monitor on human rights abuses in Afghanistan.

Mohammad Farid Hamadi, a member of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, told RFE/RL that the commission received complaints about abusive behavior by U.S. troops even before an international scandal broke out over photographs of Iraqi prisoners being abused by U.S. captors at the Abu Ghurayb prison in Baghdad.

"Even before [the Abu Ghurayb scandal], we expressed concern in our contacts with military and political officials from the [U.S.-led] antiterrorism coalition and to people from the U.S. Embassy. Our concerns are not only about prisoners, but also about other complaints we have received in connection with arrests during military operations. Besides informing them about these complaints, we also requested access and information about these [detention centers]. But so far, we have not received any clear response [to our request]," he said.

Hamadi said the human rights commission also has asked the Afghan Interior Ministry to help gather information about alleged abuses of Afghan citizens. But he said the ministry so far has not offered further information. "Some complaints [we have received] were related to operations that led to arrests," he said. "Other complaints were about detainees whose relatives did not have any information about their fate. The relatives simply wanted to get in touch with them. At the same time we had complaints about people who were asking for compensation."

A report in "The Washington Post" has linked both deaths at the Bagram prison to a military intelligence unit that later oversaw interrogations at the Abu Ghurayb prison in Iraq. The newspaper found that interrogations at Bagram in late 2002 were supervised by Company A of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion.

That battalion was moved to Iraq early in 2003 and some of its members were assigned to the joint interrogation and debriefing center at Abu Ghurayb. "The Washington Post" quoted an unnamed U.S. Army spokesman as saying that at least three members of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion have been quietly disciplined for conduct that involved the abuse of a female Iraqi prisoner at Abu Ghurayb.

(RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari contributed to this report.)