Investigation of U.S.-run Afghan prisons is ordered

Army general responds to complaints of abuses

May 20, 2004|By Michael Kilian | Michael Kilian,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan has ordered a top-to-bottom investigation of conditions and practices at all U.S. military detention facilities there.

Yesterday's action was taken by Lt. Gen. David Barno in the wake of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal and complaints by human-rights groups about abuse of Afghan detainees.

Last week, the Army began two investigations into cases involving detainees who allegedly were beaten and mistreated sexually. At least three detainees have been killed while in U.S. custody in Afghanistan.

The sweeping review announced yesterday is to be conducted by a general, not yet identified, who will report to Barno with findings and recommendations in mid-June.

"The appointed general will physically visit every facility to ensure internationally accepted standards of handling detainees are being met," said a statement from the U.S. military in Afghanistan. "The appointed general will ensure facilities are adequate; procedures are, in accordance with the spirit of the Geneva Conventions, being followed correctly and fully; and that staffing and capabilities are adequate to the task."

Hundreds of Afghans have been held in about 20 detention centers the U.S. military maintains in Afghanistan. Many of these detainees have been sent on to the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they have been confined as "unlawful combatants" not entitled to lawyers.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced a new review process for Guantanamo inmates that gives them an annual opportunity to make a case for release.

A military spokesman said the news media and Afghan human-rights organizations would not be allowed to view the U.S.-run detention sites in Afghanistan, although the International Committee of the Red Cross would still have access to the prison compound at Bagram air base north of Kabul.

"It is the coalition's position that allowing media into those facilities would compromise [the Geneva Conventions'] protection," the spokesman said.

The Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners forbid photographing prisoners and publicizing their confinement. Those bans appear to have been widely violated in the case of Iraqi prisoners.

The 32 prisons run by the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai are separate from the 20 U.S. detention centers.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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