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Rights group alleges prisoner abuse

Says detainees were mistreated after '04 scandal

NEW YORK -- The group Human Rights Watch said in a report released yesterday that US military commanders encouraged abusive interrogations of detainees in Iraq, even after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal called attention to the issue in 2004.

Between 2003 and 2005, prisoners were routinely physically mistreated, deprived of sleep, and exposed to extreme temperatures as part of the interrogation process, the report said.

``Soldiers were told that the Geneva Conventions did not apply and that interrogators could use abusive techniques to get detainees to talk," wrote John Sifton, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The organization said it based its conclusion on interviews with military personnel and sworn statements in declassified documents.

A Pentagon spokesman, Commander Greg Hicks, said he was not aware of the report, but noted that the military is reviewing its procedures regarding detainees following a Supreme Court ruling that the Geneva Conventions should apply in the conflict with Al Qaeda. The Bush administration had previously held that certain enemies, including terrorists, were ``enemy combatants" and not protected by those rules.

The conventions prohibit ``outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment."

Human Rights Watch focused much of its report on a detention facility called Camp Nama at Baghdad International Airport.

One soldier, whose name was withheld from the report, described a suspected insurgent being stripped naked, thrown in the mud, sprayed with water, and exposed to frigid temperatures to soften him up for interrogators.

Commanders, the soldier said, seemed confident that their treatment of prisoners was legal.

He described computerized authorization forms that had to be filled out before subjecting detainees to strobe lights, loud music, extreme heat or cold, or intimidation by barking dogs.

The allegations of abuse at the camp were first reported in March by The New York Times.

In a separate development, the Taliban's former envoy to Pakistan said in an interview yesterday that he has written a book because he has a ``dangerous" story to tell about mistreatment, terror, and confinement in the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Abdul Salam Zaeef's book, ``A Picture of Guantanamo," went on sale last week in Afghanistan.

``My book includes everything I endured during my detention, what I saw, what I heard, and how I was treated during my three years and 10 months there," Zaeef said. ``I want the world to know the truth."

Zaeef, a former Taliban envoy fluent in Arabic and English, was the Taliban's most visible face during the US-led campaign against the hard-line regime after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He held daily press conferences at the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, to rail against American attacks on his country.

His outbursts angered Pakistan, Washington's new ally against terrorism, which for years had supported the Taliban and other mujahideen in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistani authorities sent Zaeef back to Afghanistan, where American forces captured him in 2002. He was released and returned to Afghanistan last year.

Zaeef said he suffers from depression and anxiety as a result of his time in US custody, which according to his book was marred by physical and mental abuse such as long-term sleep deprivation.

``The treatment by the Americans during my detention was inhumane," he said during a visit to his heavily guarded west Kabul home. ``So many times we were naked, punished, weren't allowed to sleep for 10 days, 20 days, one month."

But the greatest wrong was not to be put on trial and given a chance to face any charges, he said. ``I was not a fighter, I never fought with the Americans," he said. ``I condemned what happened with Sept. 11 in America. The main thing I want now is justice."

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