Prisoners released from the military camps at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Bagram air base in Afghanistan have said in a series of interviews with Amnesty International that they were subjected to human rights abuses.
The accounts, which provide some of the most detailed information so far on alleged violations, include claims that people were forcibly injected, denied sleep and forced to stand or kneel for hours in painful positions. These charges are included in a new report from the human rights organization, which is reviewing 23 months of U.S. actions in the war on terror.
Sean McCormack, spokesman for the National Security Council, declined to comment yesterday, saying he had not seen the report. NSC spokesmen have challenged previous claims of ill treatment, saying that the United States treats enemy combatants humanely.
About 700 prisoners have been kept at Guantanamo Bay, most captured in Afghanistan after the war in 2001. About 60 men have since been released. Many had been transferred there through the base at Bagram, north of Kabul, which still holds an unknown number of prisoners. The United States has designated the prisoners "enemy combatants" and has refused them access to lawyers or relatives. Earlier this year, it scheduled six detainees to face military tribunals, but three of those prosecutions have been suspended pending the completion of negotiations with the defendants' governments in Britain and Australia.
The report, "Threat of a Bad Example," concludes that conditions at the bases may be coercive in the context of repeated interrogations and calls for the Bush administration to treat detainees humanely, provide legal counsel and charge them promptly with recognizable criminal offenses -- or release them.
In the report, one Afghan detainee, Alif Khan, recalled being given two injections, producing "a kind of unconsciousness," for his transfer from Bagram.
Another, Sayed Abassin, said that while at Bagram, he was awakened by guards, denied adequate food and forced to stand or kneel for hours.
A third man, Muhammad Naim Farooq, said fellow detainees at Guantanamo had wept because of pain from handcuffs. He also said that two men who had attempted suicide were punished with solitary confinement.
"These interviews with former prisoners are damning and add to the poor record of the Bush administration with regard to human rights over the past 23 months," said Alexandra Arriaga, director of government relations for Amnesty International USA.
"The record is shameful: hooding, blindfolding and shackling of prisoners, together with arbitrary arrests, prolonged incommunicado detention, ill treatment and interrogations without legal counsel," she said.
After several months of controversy over tactics in dealing with prisoners, the Bush administration pledged two months ago that the United States would not torture terrorism suspects or subject them to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment to extract information.
Arriaga said it was impossible to independently judge conditions at the camps, as the organization had been denied entry.
Allegations of serious mistreatment have centered on Bagram. In interviews with The Washington Post last year, members of the U.S. national security apparatus said "stress and duress" techniques had been used there.
Concern for detainees mounted earlier this year when pathologists at Bagram called the deaths of two Afghan prisoners after interrogation homicides and blamed blunt-force injuries in addition to other causes. The U.S. military is still investigating the deaths.
Jamie Fellner, U.S. program director for Human Rights Watch, said it has been "extremely difficult to know" if the United States is treating people humanely during interrogations. "No one has been allowed to talk to detainees. These [accounts] are the beginning of the first insight into their experiences," she said.
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