U.S. military investigating new allegation of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan - The U.S. military is investigating a new claim of abuse in a network of secretive American jails where at least four captives have died, officials said Saturday.

Also, a rights group said an Afghan man claimed he was burned and beaten so badly last year by Afghan militiamen guarding an American base that he needed surgery.

The new cases add to concerns of reported prisoner abuse in Afghanistan _ stretching back to the war that ousted the Taliban in late 2001 _ which have drawn fresh attention since the scandal broke over detainee mistreatment in Iraq.

Maj. Jon Siepmann said the latest allegation was reviewed by U.S. officials this week. He gave no further details, and it was unclear when or where the alleged abuse took place or whether it involved any deaths.

The U.S. military recently opened at least two other investigations after former Afghan prisoners said they were beaten and sexually abused.

Siepmann said the Naval Criminal Investigative Service was investigating, which suggests Marines might be implicated. The Marines are a separate service within the Department of the Navy.

Navy special forces, known as SEALs, have also served in Afghanistan.

This month, Lt. Gen. David Barno, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is to announce the results of a review of 20 jails across the country.

Officials say the prison program already has been altered as a result of the review, carried out since late May by a brigadier-general under Barno's command.

The international Red Cross regularly visits prisoners at the main jail at the U.S. military base at Bagram, north of Kabul, and last week began visiting the next-largest jail in the southern city of Kandahar.

But its reports are not released, and neither the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission nor the media have been given any access to U.S. holding facilities.

"It's the same old story," said Nader Nadery of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. "They never share information and we just don't know what's going on in these detention centers."

Rights activists also are concerned about the behavior of Afghan militias working with the 20,000 U.S.-led troops here.

Nadery said the commission recently interviewed a man who said he was arrested and tortured by the same militiamen his family has accused of killing his cousin near an American base in southern Helmand province last November.

The man, Abdul Haleem, filed a complaint that the Afghan soldiers beat his feet and body and set fire to pieces of plastic laid on his skin during a four-day ordeal that began Nov. 3. Nadery said the Afghan soldiers were trying to extract a confession.

U.S. soldiers visiting the guard post outside their base in Girishk saw his bloodied state but made no effort to intervene, Haleem claimed.

The U.S. military said it was unaware of Haleem's case.

Relatives told The Associated Press in late June that Haleem was arrested at the same time as his cousin, Abdul Wahid, who the American military says died in their custody on Nov. 6.

Abdul Wahid's father blamed Afghan forces for his death, which is the subject of a U.S. Army investigation.

Nadery said human rights officials were seeking a meeting with the U.S. military to present their concerns along with a dossier including photographs of scars on Haleem's body allegedly caused by the abuse.


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