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Red Cross to Visit US Prison in Afghanistan - 2004-06-09

The U.S. military says it will allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit a previously off-limits detention facility in Afghanistan. The concession was prompted by what has become one of the most contentious issues of the U.S.-led War on Terror.

The request from the Red Cross to visit the U.S.-run prison in Kandahar Province was made last month. The decision to grant the request was only announced Wednesday, after fresh allegations that some Afghan detainees were beaten and sexually abused while in U.S. custody.

A U.S. military spokesman in Kabul, Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager, told reporters that the top U.S. general in Afghanistan made the decision.

?The commander of combined forces in Afghanistan, Lt. General David Barno, has decided to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit the Kandahar holding site,? Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager said. ?Details of this visit will be worked out between the International Committee of the Red Cross and combined joint task force 76 [coalition forces]."

Asked why General Barno had taken three weeks to say yes, Colonel Mansager said the matter deserved careful consideration.

"It was not something that was hastily considered... The ICRC and the coalition (and) the Afghan people - the center of gravity and all of our military operations here - are better served by a deliberate considered decision, and we stand by that," Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager added.

The ICRC is the only outside organization the U.S. military allows to visit its military prisons, but it had previously restricted Red Cross inspectors in Afghanistan to the main U.S. detention center at Bagram Air Base, north of the Afghan capital.

Some human rights groups are calling for the military to allow other independent observers access to all U.S. prisons in the country. Critics are unhappy with the Red Cross policy of refusing to make the results of its inspections public.

The abuse issue has been an extremely sensitive one for the U.S. government and military, since the publishing of photographs showing American prison guards beating and sexually abusing detainees in Iraqi prisons.

Some Afghans held in U.S. custody say they received similar treatment, but the United States military is refusing to comment on these allegations until its own investigation into the matter is concluded.