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Human rights groups have documented prisoner abuse for 2 years

WASHINGTON—Amnesty International sent an open letter to President Bush on Friday calling the abuses at Abu Ghraib a "pattern of brutality and cruelty" that constitutes war crimes and called on the administration to fully investigate the charges so there's "no impunity for anyone found responsible regardless of position or rank."

The organization said its investigators documented "scores of individual cases" of mistreatment at the prison, including beatings, electric shocks, sleep deprivation, the use of hoods and prolonged forced standing or kneeling, which the military refers to as "stress positions."

Combined with interviews of people who've been held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the group said the treatment constituted a pattern of abusing detainees that stretched back more than two years.

Separately, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and seven other human rights organizations sent another open letter to Bush on Friday urging him to take "immediate and decisive action."

"The events at Abu Ghraib now in the headlines are the latest evidence of an interrogation and detention system that appears to be out of control ... and not the isolated misdeeds of a few individuals allegedly acting without authorization," it said.

"The U.S. administration has shown a consistent disregard for the Geneva Conventions and basic principles of law, human rights, and decency," Irene Kahn, Amnesty International's secretary general, said in a printed statement. "This has created a climate in which U.S. soldiers feel they can dehumanize and degrade prisoners with impunity."

On Friday, the military announced charges against one of the soldiers accused of abuse. Pfc. Lynndie R. England, who was shown in photographs holding a leash that was around an Iraqi's neck, has been charged with assaulting the detainees and conspiring with Cpl. Charles Graner to mistreat the detainees, among other charges. England, 21, must undergo an Article 32 investigation, similar to a grand jury proceeding, before charges are referred to a court-martial.

Alistair Hodgett, a Washington spokesman for Amnesty International, said its researchers began documenting cases at Abu Ghraib last May. In July, the group raised its concerns to the U.S. government and the ruling Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad. It requested permission to visit coalition-run prisons in Iraq, but was denied. The cases of abuse were compiled from detainees who'd been released from the prison, he said.

Army investigators found abuse at the prison in January, and American officials vowed to stop it. But Hodgett said allegations of abuse continued.

Officials with the International Committee of the Red Cross issued a confidential report to U.S. authorities in Iraq over abuses in American-run prisons there.

According to a statement from ICRC headquarters in Geneva, Red Cross delegates made 29 visits to 14 detention centers in Iraq between March 31 and Oct. 24, 2003.

The delegates toured the facilities, interviewed prisoners, then developed a series of working papers they presented to coalition authorities highlighting "serious concerns" about the treatment of prisoners under the third and fourth Geneva Conventions. The delegates also repeatedly requested corrective action from coalition authorities, the group said.


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.