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Pentagon Denies Beating Afghan Detainees - 2002-02-12

America's top General has rejected charges that U.S. troops beat Afghan detainees seized in what was apparently a botched raid last month in southern Afghanistan.

Air Force four-star General Richard Myers is Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of the U.S. military. He tells Pentagon reporters the controversial raid is still under investigation.

But General Myers says he does not believe any of the 27 detainees seized in the attack were mistreated. "At this point in the investigation, I don't believe that any of the detainees - this is the 27 that were detained - were subject to beatings or rough treatment after they were taken into custody," he said. "All 27 detainees were medically screened upon arrival in Kandahar and there were no issues of beatings or kickings or anything of that sort."

The detainees were turned over to Afghan authorities last week after U.S. officials determined none of them were Taleban or al-Qaida. Since then, several have claimed they were beaten.

The men were seized in a raid on a suspected al-Qaida or Taleban munitions depot. At least 15 Afghans were killed and a large amount of military equipment destroyed by U.S. forces.

But Afghan sources later said the munitions had been collected in a disarmament drive organized by supporters of the country's new interim government.

The beating charges have coincided with claims that another U.S. attack - a missile attack in a remote part of eastern Afghanistan on suspected al-Qaida terrorist leaders - also was carried out in error and actually killed innocent civilians.

General Myers says that incident is also under investigation, though he indicates the Pentagon still believes the target was justified.

Nevertheless, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the Pentagon is taking seriously the charges of U.S. military mistakes. "I'm always concerned when there's an allegation made that suggests that some innocent person was, that an attack was inappropriate or that some innocent person was killed or injured," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld says such charges should not obscure the good the United States has done in ridding Afghanistan of Taleban repression.

The international monitoring group Human Rights Watch is meanwhile asking the Pentagon for access to detainees in both Afghanistan and Cuba.

The Pentagon is not commenting. But one official notes representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross have been granted full access to all the detainees.