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Rights Group Accuses US Troops in Afghanistan of Abuses - 2004-03-08

A prominent human rights group is accusing U.S. forces in Afghanistan of severe abuses, including torture.

The New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch says U.S. troops are mistreating suspected Afghan insurgents in their custody and have arbitrarily arrested non-combatants.

The 59-page report, which was released Monday, says U.S. forces have abused enemy prisoners, in some cases subjecting them to freezing temperatures or depriving them of sleep.

The United States has about 13,000 troops in Afghanistan to help provide security and combat an armed anti-government insurgency in the east and south of the country.

While the report also accuses the insurgents, including remnants of the former hard-line Taleban regime, of similar rights abuses, it says those are no excuses for the alleged U.S. misdeeds.

It points to the deaths of three Afghans while in U.S. custody, and calls for an official explanation for their deaths.

Human Rights Watch also says American forces detain non-combatants who are suspected of ties to the militants without due process of the law.

Addressing the report, the spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, says the depiction of U.S. actions does not match reality.

"Basically their report shows a lack of understanding of the situation here," he said. "This is a combat zone, and we apply appropriate rules of engagement, and we follow the law of war."

He says the three deaths mentioned in the report are still under investigation and adds that U.S. troops do not torture detainees.

"As far as excessive use of force, we do reject that," said Colonel Hilferty. "We're very careful on how we use force."

He says that although the insurgents do not represent a nation and are therefore not technically enemy combatants, U.S. treatment of the detainees still conforms to international law and includes monitoring by the Red Cross.