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US Forces in Afghanistan Investigate New Prisoner Abuse Allegations - 2004-05-12


U.S. forces in Afghanistan say they are starting an investigation into new allegations of abuse of detainees at their main prison facility.

U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Tucker Mansager says the probe is based on charges of human rights abuse at the main U.S.-run prison camp at Baghram air base.

?We had allegations, various allegation, of alleged assault and deprivation of sleep. We have complaints about living conditions,? he said.

The spokesman's remarks follow a report in the New York Time quoting a former Baghram detainee, who says he was beaten by guards, photographed naked, sexually violated, and accused of bestiality.

The charges mirror cases of apparent human rights abuses by U.S. forces in Iraq against Iraqi prisoners.

A statement from U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said military and civilian officials had not heard of the allegations published by the New York Times.

Lieutenant Colonel Mansager says the U.S. military takes any allegation of mistreatment very seriously and began the investigation within hours of hearing about the alleged abuse.

?In this particular case, we are, in hours of notification of this, are already conducting an investigation ? and are pursuing it very vigorously,? Colonel Mansager said.

On Tuesday, top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David Barno said there had been no complaints of abuse at Baghram since prison camp procedures were overhauled early last year. But the ex-detainee quoted in the New York Times said abuses against him took place at Baghram and at other, smaller prison camps during the summer of 2003.

The U.S. advocacy group Human Rights Watch issued a report in March claiming numerous cases of abuse by U.S. forces against detainees.

They specifically cited the deaths of three detainees while in custody, two of whom died in December 2002 at Baghram, and another who died in June of last year.

The U.S. military says it is investigating those deaths, but cannot comment until the probes conclude, which Lieutenant Colonel Mansager says will take time because many of the troops involved in the case are no longer serving in Afghanistan.

?It takes some time to be able to find those people, get to them, ask the questions that need to be asked, and then draw the conclusion. And so that is why it has lasted now for a year and a half,? Colonel Mansager said.

Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission has also documented cases of mistreatment involving U.S.-run prisons.

They say that many detainees are arrested without due process, and that some prisoners are the victims of false accusations by personal enemies.