KABUL, Afghanistan -- The US military yesterday defended its detention of 500 inmates at its main base in Afghanistan, saying they are treated humanely and get the ''best possible living conditions."
The New York Times reported yesterday that inmates are held by the dozen in wire cages at the Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul. Some had been held for as long as two or three years without access to lawyers or the chance to hear allegations against them.
The report, citing unnamed military officials and former detainees, said that inmate numbers had grown sharply, partly because ''enemy combatants" caught in hunts for Al Qaeda and Taliban militants were no longer being transferred to the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Colonel James Yonts, the US military spokesman in Kabul, would not confirm or deny whether inmates are held for up to three years. But he added that all those held were at one time ''enemy combatants."
''We hold them for two reasons: to question them and get intelligence from them, or because they've committed violence against the coalition or the people of Afghanistan," he said in an e-mailed response to questions.
Yonts confirmed that about 500 people are held at Bagram, and said they were treated humanely, and ''provided the best possible living conditions and medical care in accordance with the principals of the Geneva Convention."