Afghan prisoners abused from beginning of war, monitors allege.
Shortly after the start of the Afghan war, American soldiers detained prisoners by cuffing, hooding, stripping, restraining and even beating them, human-rights groups charge. The detainees were sleep-deprived, not allowed family visits, not given legal counsel and not seen by international monitoring groups.
One detainee told international monitors he was forced to stand straight up for 10 days. Another told of life beneath a black bag placed over his head for hours on end. Two detainees detailed weeks of having bright lights shined in their faces as American interrogators peppered them with questions.
In such secret detentions, human-rights groups charge, the stage was set for abuses and torture that later followed at U.S. installations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Cuba.
Now as the Bush administration vows reform after photographs of tortured Iraqi prisoners caused worldwide outrage, watchdog groups say a dismal pattern was set from the start of America's war on terror.
"The fundamental protections of rights were never there," said Elisa Massimino, Washington director of Human Rights Group, a lawyers' group that petitioned the Bush administration for improved treatment of detainees.
"The system is broken," she said. "From the beginning, there was an eroding of standards and generally followed international rules over how people should be treated."
Human-rights groups say that for more than two years, their reports of abuse allegations were largely dismissed or ignored by U.S. officials who all too often bristled at the accusations and derided their information gathering.
"Their response was always inadequate," said John Sifton a researcher at Human Rights Watch who led an investigation into U.S. detention practices in Afghanistan that resulted in a blistering 59-page report detailing mistreatments.
"We've seen little evidence, or acknowledgement on their part, until now that the system needs to be changed," he said of the military. "They cannot say they were not told before."
The Bush administration and the Pentagon on Wednesday rejected any links between the pictures of torture from Abu Ghraib in Iraq and past allegations from human-rights groups.
"We believe it's an aberration," U.S. Army Lt. Col. Pamela Hart said of some soldiers' conduct at Abu Ghraib. "It is not indicative of the way we do business."
As for past instances of alleged abuse, Hart said: "We are doing our best to run the detention mission and win the war on terror."
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, U.S. forces were given a near carte blanche by the Pentagon to hunt down terrorists, their supporters and anti-American insurgents.
As the invasion of Afghanistan unfolded, the U.S. military soon found itself responsible for thousands of detainees whom it rounded up.
Those the military considered the most dangerous, or prisoners thought valuable for their intelligence, were shipped by the Pentagon to the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where some 600 remain.
After the Iraq invasion, detention centers were set up to handle questioning of supporters and key figures in the former regime of Saddam Hussein. Outsiders, including the media and the International Committee of the Red Cross, were largely kept from the detention centers and prisoners.
U.S. officials vow that under new guidelines international observers will be stationed at Abu Ghraib. Human-rights workers hope it will be the start an overhaul of the U.S. detention system in conflict zones.
"Now they must come clean," Alistair Hodgett, spokesman for Amnesty International in Washington, said of the military.
"They must improve access. This transparency will help ensure that something like this may never happen again."
[Source: By E.A. Torriero, Chicago Tribune, Us, 05May04]
War in Iraq
|This document has been published on 21May04 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.|