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Afghan president 'shocked' by report of prisoner abuses

KABUL, Afghanistan - Shocked by a U.S. Army report detailing prisoner abuses in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai said yesterday that he will demand control over detainees during a visit to Washington.

Army investigators cited numerous witness accounts of brutal abuses of Afghan prisoners, including at least two deaths, in a 2,000-page confidential U.S. Army file on their criminal investigation that was first reported by The New York Times on Friday.

Based on interviews with interpreters and U.S. soldiers, the Army report described questionable interrogation methods, including leaving one prisoner chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for hours on end. He later died.

"It has shocked me totally. We condemn it," Karzai told reporters before leaving Kabul, the capital, on a four-day visit to the United States that includes a scheduled meeting with President Bush at the White House.

"We want the U.S. government to take very, very strong action to take away people like that working with their forces in Afghanistan," the Afghan leader added, according to news agency reports.

The latest details of harsh treatment at the U.S. military's Bagram Air Base follow riots in several Afghan cities over the reported desecration of the Quran by U.S. military guards at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.

At least 17 people died in rioting that erupted in several countries after Newsweek magazine reported May 9 that U.S. investigators had confirmed that a Quran was flushed down a toilet to rile prisoners. The magazine later retracted the story and apologized.

Karzai is trying to reach out to Taliban fighters and other militants, offering an amnesty program for combatants who pledge loyalty to his administration.

About 80 militants have surrendered since March, when the amnesty took effect, and government officials say they expect the momentum to pick up quickly.

The reconciliation process is also expected to raise Karzai's approval ratings within the country's Pashtun majority, some of whom have criticized him for turning his back on his own ethnic group.

Seven people face criminal charges in connection with the abuses described in the U.S. Army report.

Some of the most shocking revelations in the leaked Army file involved two previously reported deaths of Afghan prisoners at what the military calls the Bagram Collection Point. They are identified only as Dilawar and Habibullah.

But the New York-based Human Rights Watch says at least six prisoners have died in the custody of the U.S. military and CIA in Afghanistan since 2002.

"These crimes, known to senior officials in the military and Central Intelligence Agency, have not still been adequately investigated or prosecuted," the human rights group charged in a statement.

"More than two years later, no U.S. personnel have been charged with homicide in any of these deaths, although U.S. Department of Defense documents show that five of the six deaths were clear homicides," it added.

The Pentagon insisted that there was no evidence of systematic abuse and blamed any incidents on rogue soldiers and civilian contractors at the prison.

Karzai, a close ally who recently said Afghanistan should have a formal alliance with the United States, agreed with that assessment, saying the abuses by interrogators and guards outlined in the Army file did not suggest widespread problems in the U.S. military.

"The people of the United States are very kind people," he said. "It is only one or two individuals who are bad, and such individuals are found in any military in any society everywhere, including Afghanistan."

But Karzai said he would raise his concerns in a meeting with Bush and called for the return of all Afghan prisoners to Afghanistan. Many remain at Guantanamo.

"No operations inside Afghanistan should take place without the consultation of the Afghan government," he said.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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