Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Videotapes that former inmates say show guards beating prisoners at the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been reviewed by the inspector general of the Navy and will be provided to Senate investigators, a military spokesman said.

The videos could confirm or discredit complaints against the Immediate Response Force, a team of guards tasked to deal with detainee misconduct and violence at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, also known as Gitmo.

A military spokesman in Afghanistan, meanwhile, said the top U.S. general there has ordered a sweeping review of U.S. jails in the country.

The U.S. military says it is treating its Afghan prisoners humanely but last week opened two investigations into claims by former detainees of mistreatment, including beatings and sexual abuse.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager said a general would be appointed to carry out the review of about 20 prisons, and would visit each facility before reporting by mid-June. Portions of the report will be made public, Col. Mansager said.

U.S. officials also say detainees are treated and interrogated humanely at Guantanamo, and that any abuse is reported and punished immediately.

But in recent press interviews and letters to U.S. senators, three Britons, who were held at Guantanamo Bay until their release in March, described several incidents in which they said members of the Immediate Response Force savagely assaulted inmates.

“They pepper-sprayed me in the face. They tied me up like a beast and then they were kneeling on me, kicking and punching,” Tarek Dergoul, one of the three, told the London Observer newspaper on Sunday.

The Pentagon yesterday dismissed the charges. “These accounts are not credible,” said a defense department official who asked not to be identified. “If they were credible, they would have been investigated and the perpetrators punished.”

Lt. Col. Leon H. Sumpter, the spokesman for the joint task force that runs the detention and interrogation center at Guantanamo, said all interventions by the Immediate Response Force had been videotaped “to ensure that only the minimum force necessary is employed.”

The teams — which receive “specialized training on how to use the minimum force necessary to overcome the misconduct” — know they are being taped, he added in an e-mail.

Col. Sumpter said the naval inspector general, Vice Adm. Albert T. “Tom” Church, had reviewed several of the tapes during a visit to the base earlier this month and had taken some of them with him.

At a subsequent press briefing, Adm. Church said he was aware of eight incidents in the past two years, including one in which a detainee was assaulted after he had been subdued by the IRF team.

The tapes also have been requested by senators seeking to resolve lingering questions about the abuse seen at Abu Ghraib prison Iraq.

“These tapes may help resolve some of the uncertainties about these allegations,” said an aide to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, who requested the tapes in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Monday.

Col. Sumpter said he had no information about the request, but that the task force would “comply fully with all authorized requests.”

“If the incidents described really happened, it suggests that some of the same cruel and degrading treatment that we know about at Abu Ghraib also happened at Guantanamo,” the aide said.

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