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Monday, December 19, 2005

Rights Group Reports Afghanistan Torture - New York Times

Rights Group Reports Afghanistan Torture - New York TimesDecember 19, 2005
Rights Group Reports Afghanistan Torture

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.

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.

A spokesman for the International Red Cross said the organization knows that the United States has detainees who are not visited by the Red Cross, but that it does not know where in the world they are.

"In general we know, because we have various information, there are various detainees that we cannot visit, but we have no specific indications that they are held in Afghanistan," said Olivier Moeckli, spokesman for the organization in Afghanistan.

One detainee, identified in the Human Rights Watch report only as M. Z. at his lawyer's request, said he was arrested in 2002 outside Afghanistan and held in the "prison of darkness" for about four weeks. He was in an "underground place, very dark," in solitary confinement, where there was loud music playing continuously, the report said, and was interrogated in a room with a strobe light, and shackled to a ring in the floor. "During interrogations, he says, an interrogator threatened him with rape," the report said.

Another detainee, identified at his lawyer's request as J. K., was quoted as saying, "People were screaming in pain and crying all the time."

Some of the detainees said they were moved from one secret location to another, the report said, and some were eventually transferred to the main United States military detention facility at Bagram.

Another detainee, Abd al-Salam Ali al-Hila, a Yemeni, told his lawyers he was kept in the dark prison chained to a wall in 2003. Three others, Hassin bin Attash, Jamil el-Banna and Bisher al-Rawi, told their lawyers that they were held at the prison in darkness, and that they were shackled and beaten, the report said.

"The U.S. government must shed some light on Kabul's 'dark prison,' " said John Sifton, a terrorism researcher for Human Rights Watch. "No one, no matter their alleged crime, should be held in secret prisons or subjected to torture."

A hangar close to the Kabul airport is another suspected detention center. The hangar, covered in a huge tent, has its own entrance from the airfield. Afghan airport personnel noticed Americans using the hangar, and bringing aircraft close to the hangar for off-loading until a year ago. Anyone who approached the hangar from the city side was ordered away by guards via loudspeaker, as they are at the Ariana Hotel.

Another possible former detention facility is the so-called Brick Factory that lies not far from the United States air base at Bagram, on the New Bagram Road that runs from the industrial east side of the capital. It is not a brick factory, but a huge Soviet-era transport mechanics yard with different workshops, according to a mechanic who worked there in the early 1990's. After the fall of the Taliban it became a C.I.A. training base, according to an American military official who was based in Afghanistan in 2003.

A sign posted outside now says it is an Afghan military facility, but American and Afghan commanders work there together, and members for the Afghan Rapid Reaction Force of the National Security Directorate, the Afghan intelligence service, guard the entrance to the base. New mud walls, topped with razor wire, run for kilometers around it. Guards said they could not let anyone on the base and referred all questions to the Afghan National Security Directorate.

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