Rights Expert Demands Access to Afghan Prisons

Los Angeles Times

August 23, 2004

KABUL, Afghanistan — A U.N. human rights expert criticized U.S. military authorities in Afghanistan on Saturday for barring him from visiting detention centers, and he described one Kabul prison he did visit as "inhuman."

The lack of transparency "raises serious concerns about the legality of detention and conditions of those detainees," M. Cherif Bassiouni said.

Former prisoners have said they were tortured and abused while in U.S. custody in Afghanistan, raising concerns that the mistreatment of U.S.-held prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison that was uncovered this year was not an isolated episode.

The U.S. military, which this month had been expected to release an internal report on allegations of prisoner abuse, turned down Bassiouni's request to visit centers where suspected militants are held.

Bassiouni was allowed to visit Kabul's notorious Pul-i-Charkhi jail, run by Afghan authorities, where about 725 Taliban members and their Pakistani allies are being held.

He pronounced conditions there "inhuman" and said the prisoners should be freed.

Bassiouni has been in Afghanistan for a week. He said the nation had made progress in the last two years, but he also listed violations including torture and arbitrary arrest.

Bassiouni was appointed by the U.N. as an independent expert on human rights in Afghanistan in April. He is to deliver a report to the General Assembly in October.