Gen to tour, reassess US jails in Afghanistan

Associated Press

Kabul, May 19:

The commander of US forces in Afghanistan has instructed a fellow general to carry out a “top to bottom” review of American holding facilities across Afghanistan, the military said today, in an effort to fend off growing allegations of prisoner abuse. Expanding on a brief announcement yesterday by the US ambassador, military spokesman Lt Col Tucker Mansager said the appointed general would visit each of around 20 American prisons across the country and report to the commander, Lt Gen David Barno, by mid-June.

“Portions” of the report would be made public, the spokesman said. “He will also ensure all facilities are adequate, and procedures are in accordance with the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and are being followed correctly and fully, and that staffing and capabilities are adequate to the task,” Mansager said. He didn’t identify the general who would carry out the review, or whether he was an American or from one of the other nations contributing troops to the hunt for Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in Afghanistan. Under intensified scrutiny because of the scandal over prisoner abuse in Iraq, the US military last week announced two new investigations into allegations of mistreatment by former Afghan detainees, including beatings and sexual abuse. But it has resisted calls from an Afghan human rights group and media for access to the jails to see if Iraq-style abuses were taking place saying the military saw no reason to change its policy of granting access only to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Red Cross officials visit only the main Bagram facility and their reports are confidential.

“It is the coalition’s position that allowing media into those facilities would compromise that protection afforded by the Geneva Conventions,” Mansager said. Still, he said Barno has yet to respond to a request from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission for access.

The US military is also facing criticism for the lack of results from criminal investigations into the deaths of three prisoners in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003. Military autopsies found that two had died as a result of “blunt force injuries”. Officials say they’ve had trouble finding and interviewing soldiers involved in those two cases. Hundreds of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters have been held without charge at American jails across the country since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001. Many of them have been transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the United States military classifies detainees as “unlawful combatants” and denies them legal representation.