- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan delegation returning from a 10-day visit to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said yesterday that prison conditions there were “humane.”

The head of the delegation, Abdul Jabar Sabhet of the Interior Ministry, said the delegation was given the chance to speak freely with all 96 Afghan prisoners about their living conditions. Mr. Sabhet said there were “only one or two” complaints.

“Conditions of the jail was humane. There were rumors in this country about that. It was wrong. What we have seen was OK,” he said.

Mr. Sabhet’s assessment comes four days after the suicides of three detainees at the prison camp.

He said more than half of the Afghan prisoners were expected to be transferred soon, though he didn’t have an exact date.

“We ensure the Afghan people that Afghan prisoners will soon return to our country,” he said.

Last August, the United States and the Afghan government announced an agreement to send Afghans held at the detention center and elsewhere back to their country. No date was specified at the time.

Those expected to be released soon were accused of less-serious crimes, Mr. Sabhet said.

American and allied Afghan forces captured thousands of suspected Taliban and al Qaeda members in Afghanistan after a U.S.-led invasion toppled the repressive Taliban government in late 2001.

Hundreds of detainees were classified as “enemy combatants” and transferred to Guantanamo. Many have since been returned home.

The three suicides Saturday were the first detainee deaths at Guantanamo — where the United States holds about 460 men on suspicion of links to al Qaeda or the Taliban — and the military said the suicides have prompted a complete review of operations at the detention center.

The Center for Constitutional Rights has called on the military to allow an independent inspection of the base to confirm the causes of death of the three detainees and to provide an assessment of the health of the other prisoners.

In Geneva yesterday, five U.N. human rights specialists renewed their call to immediately close down the Guantanamo Bay prison and try detainees in ordinary courts.

The U.N. rapporteurs on arbitrary detention, independence of the judiciary, torture, freedom of religion, and physical and mental health issued a joint statement yesterday demanding to interview the detainees in private, in accordance with international agreements.

“The simultaneous suicide of three detainees in the Guantanamo military base … was to a certain extent foreseeable in light of the harsh and prolonged conditions of their detention, and reinforces the need for urgent closure of the detention center,” the five specialists said.

• Staff writer Betsy Pisik contributed to this report from New York.

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