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Kuwaiti prisoners accuse U.S. soldiers of abuse

WASHINGTON—Six Kuwaiti prisoners said they were severely beaten, given electric shocks and sodomized by U.S. forces in Afghanistan before they confessed to fighting with the Taliban and were sent to the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, their lawyer said Monday.

The Kuwaitis told their lawyer, according to his declassified notes, that most physical abuse ended at Guantanamo, but the prisoners were subjected to sexual and religious humiliation and prolonged isolation.

Captured in Pakistan or Afghanistan about three years ago, the Kuwaiti men were taken to U.S. bases in Afghanistan where they were hung by their wrists, beaten with chains and subjected to electric shock, said Tom Wilner, who represents a dozen Kuwaiti captives.

"You told them what they wanted to hear to make them stop," one detainee told Wilner. The men said that after torture they admitted they had joined the Taliban or met with al-Qaida members.

At Guantanamo, two detainees said they had crosses shaved into their scalp or body hair. The group said they were stripped naked and kept hooded for long periods of time, and female guards taunted them, Wilner said.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Flex Plexico, a spokesman for the Defense Department, said Monday that detention operations at Guantanamo are "safe, humane and professional," adding that the U.S. military investigates "credible allegations of illegal conduct."

In Afghanistan, 28 U.S. soldiers last fall were named in an Army investigation into the beating deaths of two detainees.

Plexico said some of the abuse allegations seemed to follow an al-Qaida training manual tactic of making false claims.

Wilner interviewed the six detainees at Guantanamo from Jan. 10-13. He said similar complaints of abuse have come from six other Kuwaitis he represents. One Kuwaiti was released last month.

Khalid al Odah, whose son Fawzi is in Guantanamo, said in a telephone interview from Kuwait City Monday that the president should intervene.

"President Bush, either charge them with crimes and try them in U.S. courts, or if you have nothing against them, set them free," said al Odah, who heads a committee of relatives in Kuwait working for the prisoners' release.

Along with Fawzi al Odah, Wilner interviewed Fayiz al Kandari, Fouad al Rabia, Abdullah al Ajmi, Abdulaziz al Shammari and Abdullah al Kandari.

The Kuwaitis' complaints were similar to recent reports of mistreatment coming from FBI agents and from an Army translator, who said he witnessed sexual humiliation.

A U.S. Army brigadier general and the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General are investigating reports of abuse at Guantanamo. Human rights groups have called for an independent probe.

The Defense Department, during military review tribunals last year, said the Kuwaitis were enemy combatants affiliated with either al-Qaida or the Taliban. The tribunals didn't investigate whether any confessions were produced by torture.

The Kuwaitis said they first went to Afghanistan on humanitarian missions to aid the poor. Several said they supported the Taliban government, which for years protected al-Qaida terrorists.

More than 60 detainees, including the Kuwaitis, won a victory last week when a federal judge ruled that they could challenge their confinement in court and that the military review tribunals were unconstitutional.

But that decision conflicted with one from another judge who said seven detainees had no rights. A federal court of appeals, and eventually the Supreme Court, may eventually rule whether judges can review the detentions case by case.


(Davies reports for The Miami Herald.)


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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