Monday, December 19, 2005

Rights Group Reports Afghanistan Torture

Rights Group Reports Afghanistan Torture


By CARLOTTA GALL
Published: December 19, 2005
KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec. 18 - Eight men at the American detention camp in Guantánamo Bay have separately given their lawyers "consistent accounts" of being tortured at a secret prison in Afghanistan at various periods from 2002 to 2004, Human Rights Watch, a group based in New York, said Sunday.
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The men, five of whom were identified by name, told their lawyers that they had been arrested in various countries, most commonly in Asia and the Middle East, the rights group said. Some recounted having been flown to Afghanistan and then driven just a few minutes from the landing strip to the prison, the rights group said, and hearing from Afghan guards that they were near Kabul.
A report released by the rights group to detail the accounts said that the detainees called the place the "dark prison" or "prison of darkness," and that they said they were chained to walls, deprived of food and drinking water, and kept in total darkness with loud rap or heavy metal music blaring for weeks at a time.
One detainee, identified as Benyam Mohammad, an Ethiopian who grew up in Britain, told his lawyer of being "hung up" in a lightless cell for days at a time, as his legs swelled and his hands and wrists became numb. He said that loud music and "horrible ghost laughter" was blasted into the cell, and that he could hear other prisoners "knocking their heads against the walls and doors, screaming their heads off."
The detainees said that they were guarded by Afghans and Americans in civilian clothes, the report said, and that their American interrogators did not wear uniforms, leading the rights group to suggest that "the prison may have been operated by personnel from the Central Intelligence Agency." The "dark prison" may have been closed in late 2004, the group said.
American military officials in Afghanistan declined to comment on the report of the men's accounts and referred all questions to the Department of Defense in Washington. A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Chris Conway, said Sunday night that it would be premature to comment because he had no details of the report.
The United States has not released the names of detainees at Guantánamo Bay.
Afghan officials denied any knowledge of secret prisons in Afghanistan. The foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, said that if such things existed, they should be made known to the Afghan authorities.
But midlevel Afghan intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not permitted to talk to the news media, said they were aware of several places where Americans currently detain people. One official mentioned the main military headquarters, Camp Eggers, in Kabul, and the Ariana Hotel, which is close to the presidential palace that C.I.A. officials have occupied since December 2001, when they first arrived in the capital after the fall of the Taliban.
Recent reports that the C.I.A. created a covert prison system after the terror attacks in 2001 have centered on Eastern Europe, and several European countries have begun investigating whether C.I.A. planes have made stops in various European countries as they carried suspects bound for those secret American prisons, in as many as eight countries.
There have been other reports suggesting that the United States operated a secret detention center in Afghanistan. One emerged in the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen of Arab descent who said he was seized at the Macedonian-Serbian border in 2003 and turned over to the C.I.A., which apparently mistook him for a terror suspect of the same name. Mr. Masri said that he was flown to a prison and held for four months in 2004, and that he was told by his captors and fellow prisoners that he was in Kabul.
Human Rights Watch said it had identified 26 people who had been "disappeared" and were believed to be held in secret detention facilities operated by the United States. It also said that the United States may have used a center near Kabul to hold those "disappeared" detainees.
The detainees said that they were held incommunicado and that they were never visited by members of the Red Cross, the report says.
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