BAGHDAD, Iraq --
Amnesty International said Monday it has gathered evidence that points to U.S. violations of international law by subjecting Iraqi prisoners to "cruel, inhuman or degrading" conditions at its detention centers here.
The report coincides with a two-day United Nations conference on human rights that began in Baghdad on Monday. The conference, which focuses on abuses committed during the rule of Saddam Hussein, will coordinate investigations into the regime's alleged killings of some 300,000 Iraqis.
London-based Amnesty International said hundreds of Iraqis held at U.S.-run tent camps and former Iraqi government prisons have been denied the right to see families or lawyers or have a judge review their detention.
Detained men sit blinfolded and handcuffed following a raid conducted by the US Army's 1st Armored Division 1st Brigade at a Baghdad neighborhood in Iraq (news - web sites) early Tuesday June 17, 2003. (AP Photo/Jim Krane)
The prisoners include those suspected of looting and other crimes as well as political suspects, including former high-ranking members of Saddam's regime.
Iraqis released from U.S. detention reported having wrists tightly bound with plastic handcuffs and sometimes denied water and access to a toilet in the first night of arrest. Amnesty said its investigators saw numerous ex-detainees with wrists still scarred by the cuffs a month after their arrests.
A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad said military officials could not comment on the report because they had not yet received it.
Amnesty called on the United States and its top official in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, to ensure that detainees are treated humanely and allegations of excessive use of force are investigated.
Amnesty said the U.S.-led occupation administration gave assurances that it intended to improve conditions and would eventually ensure detainees had access to lawyers within 72 hours after being arrested.
Joanna Oyediran, one of the group's researchers in Baghdad, said Amnesty applauds the U.S. intention of prosecuting former regime figures on human rights violations, but that the U.S. should heed the same standards to which it plans to hold Iraqis accountable.
"In order to uphold human rights you also have to respect human rights," Oyediran said of the United States.
In its 35 years in power, Saddam's regime was considered a grievous violator of human rights, with torture and disappearances common.
During the U.N.-sponsored conference that will last two days, dozens of Iraqi and foreign human rights activists, lawyers and organizations began discussing recent discoveries of mass graves, as well as justice for victims of Saddam's rule.
Since the dictator's ouster in April, mass graves have turned up across the country. The biggest, in the village of Mahaweel, in central Iraq, is said to contain the remains of more than 3,000 people killed during the 1991 Shiite revolt that followed the Gulf War.
Human rights groups say the country is dotted with such sites, possibly containing tens of thousands of bodies.
Oyediran said Amnesty documented several cases of apparent abuse, including an 11-year-old boy arrested by U.S. soldiers and jailed for three weeks, and a June 12 incident where U.S. soldiers fired on rioting detainees, killing one and wounding seven.
It also described the case of four brothers, arrested after a shooting, who were hooded and had their hands bound tightly with plastic strips, a common procedure here.
"We spent our first night in custody lying on the ground in a school. We had no access to a toilet and were given no food or water," Amnesty reported one of the brothers as saying.
The four told Amnesty that they were held in the heat of the sun for more than two days and not given enough water for washing.
Amnesty said U.S. military lawyers acknowledged that the United States has been unable until recently to create a system to inform families of detainees' whereabouts.
EDITOR'S NOTE: AP writer Nadia Abou el-Magd in Baghdad contributed to this report.
Copyright 2003 The Associated Press