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Afghan Body Hails Planned U.S. Change On Detainees

KABUL (Reuters) -- An Afghan human rights group has welcomed reports that U.S. President Barack Obama's administration will allow prisoners held for years at a U.S. base in Afghanistan greater scope to challenge their detention.

Some 600 detainees are currently held at Bagram air base north of Kabul, which has housed a prison for suspected Taliban members since U.S. and Afghan forces overthrew the militants' government in 2001.

Citing Pentagon officials and advocates for detainees at the sprawling prison, "The New York Times" on September 12 said each of the detainees would be assigned a U.S. military official who would have the authority to look for evidence, including witnesses and classified material, for any detainee challenging his detention.

The challenges would be heard by a military-appointed review board, the "Times" said.

"We support this and approve this," Lal Gul, chief of the Afghan Commission For Human Rights (ACHR), told Reuters, responding to the report of the planned change, expected to be announced as early as this week.

"We are ready for any help and cooperation in this regard," he said.

The ACHR has been pushing for years for the detainees to have access to lawyers, Gul said, adding their detention without access to courts, defense lawyers, or family members was against Afghan and international laws.

He said detainees had been mistreated at the prison.

Detainees at Bagram, many of whom have been held for years, have had even fewer rights than those held at the U.S. detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The U.S. government is building a new facility to replace the ramshackle, makeshift prison it has maintained for nearly eight years at the former Soviet air base. The new prison should be opened in the next few months.

Two prisoners died at Bagram in 2002 after being beaten by U.S. soldiers. Human rights advocates say prisoners have been staging protests there for the past few months over the conditions of their detentions.