- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 8, 2004

KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. military said yesterday it was treating its prisoners in Afghanistan “humanely,” a day after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld apologized for abuses in Iraq.

The deaths of three Afghans in secretive American detention centers are currently under investigation, and rights groups point to lingering accusations of torture of prisoners who have been held here.

Spokesman Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager said that conditions for the detainees were “in the spirit of the Geneva Conventions,” even though the prisoners had no legal claim to those conventions.

The U.S. military views Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners as “unlawful combatants,” and has held hundreds captured in the war that ousted the Taliban in late 2001 for more than two years without formal charge or access to lawyers.

Col. Mansager said the U.S. Army’s inspector general performed an “in-depth” inspection of the military’s main holding facility at Bagram, north of Kabul, in March.

He said he didn’t know if that review was prompted by the investigation of abuse of prisoners in Iraq, which began in January.

The inspector’s findings have not been released. But Col. Mansager insisted prisoners were being treated properly in Afghanistan.

“Persons placed under our control are treated humanely and kept under humanitarian conditions,” he told reporters.

The American military says it changed procedures at Bagram, the main military base where it runs a closely guarded jail, after the death of two prisoners in December 2002, although it hasn’t detailed what those changes were.

The military ruled both deaths as homicides after autopsies showed the men suffered blunt force injuries, but has yet to conclude its investigation into them, saying it has been held up by the difficulty in gathering evidence from witnesses who have left Afghanistan and in some cases, military service.

A third Afghan died in June at a holding facility in eastern Kunar province.

A U.S. intelligence official said Wednesday that the CIA inspector-general is investigating that death because it involved an independent contractor working for the agency.

Asked if the force had received new orders on handling prisoners since the damaging revelations in Iraq, Col. Mansager said officials in Afghanistan “on a regular basis re-evaluate our procedures and techniques.”

“Any allegations of wrongdoing on behalf of coalition forces are always fully investigated once they are brought to our attention,” he said.

Commanders in Afghanistan have refused to comment on findings in an internal Army report that prison guards in Iraq and Afghanistan were told to “soften up” prisoners so they would be more cooperative during interrogations.

In Washington on Friday, Mr. Rumsfeld apologized for abuses of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad and warned members of Congress the scandal could worsen with the release of videos and more photographs depicting brutality.

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