- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 20, 2012

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Afghan intelligence service rejected findings Tuesday by international and Afghan rights groups that abuse has gone unchecked at some of its prisons.

The denial, issued by the National Directorate of Security, was the latest salvo in a dispute about conditions at Afghan prisons that has been raging since the U.N. first documented torture last year and that is likely to become even more important as the U.S. moves to transfer its detention operations to Afghan authorities in coming months.

NATO and U.S. forces stopped transferring their battlefield detainees to 16 Afghan prisons in July after the U.N. found evidence of torture at the facilities.

The report by the Open Society Institute and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission suggested that external pressure had done little to stop this practice.

The groups said they found evidence that abuse including the beating of prisoners and the administration of shocks with electric cables still was going on at one of the 16 prisons — an intelligence-run facility in Kandahar — and also was happening at other facilities in the country. The report also said the U.S. government had sent detainees to the Kandahar facility since the moratorium.

“Monitors received 10 credible allegations of abuse in NDSKandahar as recently as January 2012,” the report said.

The National Directorate of Security said the allegations were based on secondhand reports and could not be trusted.

“Based on our analysis and our documentation these findings are not correct. We strongly reject this report and its allegations are baseless,” the NDS said in a statement.

The rights groups’ report, which was issued quietly and without a press conference over the weekend, has only started to provoke public responses in recent days.

Western officials speaking on condition of anonymity said members of the Afghan rights commission wanted to avoid too much publicity out of fear that the government would either shut off all access to the prisons or come after the commissioners themselves. In December, three of the most outspoken members of the commission were removed from their positions without explanation.

In what appeared to be a move to soothe tensions, the commission posted an “update” to the report on its website that noted it had found improvements to prison conditions in many provinces, though not in Kandahar.

The statement says the commission “hopes that the present improvement obtained in the situation of NDS facilities will be expanded to Kandahar province.”

Since the U.N. findings, NATO and U.S. forces have resumed sending detainees to some Afghan prisons that they say have put in place adequate reforms, but the Kandahar facility is not among these.

A spokesman for NATO and U.S. forces said that they have now halted prisoner transfers to the four additional facilities flagged by Saturday’s report.

“Upon learning of any potential abuses of human rights in detention facilities we are committed to immediately accessing the accuracies of the allegations and potentially halting transfers where appropriate,” Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings said.

The report, called “Torture, Transfers, and Denial of Due Process,” also charged that the U.S. government had continued to send some of its detainees to a prison in Kandahar that had been flagged by the U.N. despite the moratorium.

The suggestion was that other arms of the U.S. government, such as the Central Intelligence Agency, had sent detainees to a prison known for torture.

“The U.S. Embassy is working closely with Afghan officials on implementing a monitoring program for U.S.-transferred detainees,” Col. Cummings said, referring queries on U.S. government-held detainees to the embassy.

“We take that allegation seriously, and we’re looking into it,” said Gavin Sundwall, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

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