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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 May 2005, 15:19 GMT 16:19 UK
Q&A: US abuses in Afghan jails
Sayed Nabi Siddiqui
Policeman Siddiqui's allegations helped spur a US investigation
The United States has come under intense pressure over new details of the alleged abuse of prisoners by its soldiers in US-run detention centres in Afghanistan.

BBC News examines the background to the allegations - and the US investigation into them.


Q: What abuses are US soldiers in Afghanistan accused of?

The main allegations centre on the deaths of two Afghan prisoners at the US-run detention centre at Bagram, near the capital Kabul. The men, a taxi driver called Dilawar and a man called Habibullah, died in December 2002.

There has been a long-standing and much-delayed US military investigation into the deaths and other abuses at Bagram and other detention centres. However, there is now increased anger within the Afghan government and the UN following graphic details carried in the New York Times, which obtained a 2,000-page report leaked by a source close to the US investigation.

Q: What does this leaked report say?

It says that Dilawar was chained to a ceiling by his wrists for four days, and then beaten on his legs more than 100 times during a 24-hour period. Other reported abuses included:

  • A prisoner being forced to kiss the boots of interrogators
  • Another prisoner being forced to pick plastic bottle tops out of a drum filled with excrement and water
  • A female interrogator stepping on a man's neck and kicking another in the genitals
  • A prisoner who cried out "Allah" when he was struck being subjected to beatings by a number of soldiers over 24 hours as a "running joke" to hear him cry "Allah"

Q: When did the abuse allegations start?

The first allegations about prisoner torture surfaced in the Washington Times in December 2002. It said interrogators from the CIA had been subjecting Taleban and al-Qaeda suspects to "stress and duress" techniques of dubious legality, including sleep deprivation.

In February 2003, human rights groups echoed the torture allegations, prompting the US State Department to label them "ridiculous". But a month later, a military coroner concluded Dilawar and Habibullah had been killed as a result of "blunt force trauma". US military spokesman, Col Roger King, at the time vehemently denied the prisoners had been mistreated.

Q: How did the US investigation come about?

In March 2004, the US-based Human Rights Watch published a report called Entitled Enduring Freedom - Abuses by US Forces in Afghanistan, in which it accused US personnel of using excessive force, carrying out arbitrary detentions and mistreating people in custody.

Human Rights Watch said the Pentagon had not adequately explained the deaths of Dilawar and Habibullah and it feared "appropriate criminal and disciplinary action may never take place". A US military spokesman, Lt Col Bryan Hilferty, said the report showed "a lack of understanding of the laws of war and of the environment we are facing in Afghanistan".

Then in May 2004, the New York Times published allegations by an Afghan police officer, Sayed Nabi Siddiqui, that he was stripped naked, beaten and photographed at a US base in Afghanistan. This prompted Human Rights Watch to say it had documented "numerous cases of mistreatment of detainees".

Soon after, on 19 May 2004, the US in Afghanistan announced it was carrying out a "top-to-bottom" review of all 20 of its detention centres in Afghanistan. One major impetus for the inquiry was the photographs and subsequent investigation relating to the abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail in Baghdad, Iraq.

Q: Who was to carry out the report?

It was put in the hands of US Brig Gen Charles Jacoby. He was to report back to the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Lt Gen David Barno, by mid-June 2004. The US said "portions" of the review would be made public.

The publication of the report, however, was delayed. In December 2004, Human Rights Watch said it had evidence that three more prisoners had died in US detention in Afghanistan and said the US was continuing to fail to investigate abuses or punish the guilty. The US said its investigation was continuing and that no date had been set for publishing the report because its findings were still being reviewed in Washington.

However, Lt Col Pamela Keeton, a spokeswoman for the US military in Afghanistan, said Gen Jacoby had "found no evidence of abuse taking place... nor was there any evidence of leaders authorising or condoning abuse".

Q: Has anyone been charged over the abuses?

In October 2004, the US said up to 28 of its soldiers could face criminal charges in connection with the deaths of the two prisoners but that only one man, a sergeant, had actually been charged - with assault and dereliction of duty. The latest New York Times report said seven soldiers had now been charged but no-one had yet been convicted. The US has now admitted that at least eight detainees have died in its custody in Afghanistan.

Q: How have Afghans reacted to the allegations?

Anger rose quickly in 2004 following the claims made by the Afghan police officer and Human Rights Watch. The Afghan media doubted the independence of the US inquiry, condemned the Afghan government for weakness and said the only beneficiaries would be the Taleban and al-Qaeda.

The latest details have increased anger in Afghanistan, coming on the back of allegations in Newsweek magazine - since retracted - that US interrogators in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had flushed a Koran down the toilet. Those claims sparked protests in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad that left at least seven dead.

Q: What are the implications for President Hamid Karzai?

President Karzai has said he will make clear his shock over the allegations during his meetings with US President George W Bush.

The BBC's Andrew North in Kabul says the Afghan leader is taking a much more forceful stand than he has in the past towards the US. Our correspondent says his comments are a reflection of concern in Kabul at the impact on Afghan public opinion of the allegations.

President Karzai has said he wants a long-term strategic relationship with the US and at a recent national tribal council meeting says he won widespread support for this. However, he and the 18,000 US-led coalition forces are still battling a Taleban insurgency and cannot afford an increase in anti-US feelings. Publication of the abuse report might help to draw a line under the issue - but there is still no word on when that will be.


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