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Amnesty slams torture of Guantanamo detainees

Amnesty International released fresh claims Wednesday of the alleged torture and ill-treatment of terrorist suspects on the fourth anniversary of detainees being taken to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The new accusations came as a Yemeni accused of being a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden went before a U.S. military tribunal to demand the right to act as his own attorney on war crimes charges. The case against Ali Hamza al-Bahlul is one of only a few brought against inmates at the camp, where about 500 prisoners in the U.S. "war on terrorism" are being held.

Amnesty based its criticism on the testimonies from three men that echo similar claims made by released prisoners and include allegations from one of the men that he was abducted by the U.S. Criminal Intelligence Agency (CIA) as part of its "extraordinary rendition" policy.

Abdel-Salam al-Hela, a 34-year-old businessman also from Yemen allegedly "disappeared" after traveling to Egypt for a meeting with a construction firm in September 2002.

The father-of-two was shackled, blindfolded and gagged, put on a small, private plane and taken, possibly via Azerbaijan, to Afghanistan, where he was held "in secret, illegally and incommunicado" for two years, Amnesty said.

Amnesty said Hela suffered psychological torture at five prisons in or around Kabul, a number of them underground, before being taken to Guantanamo Bay in September 2004.

The human rights group said he wrote in a letter smuggled out of jail in Afghanistan: "The CIA conspired with the Egyptian mukhabarrat (intelligence service), making false allegations and threats against me, so as to justify their crime of kidnapping me."

The United States has faced criticism at home and abroad for its treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo.

Some of the harshest criticism of the tribunal system has come from the U.S. military lawyers assigned to defend the prisoners.

Army Reserve Major Tom Fleener, the lawyer appointed by the military to defend Bahlul called the tribunals a sham and said "the rules just aren't set up in a manner to help the accused."

Bahlul, accused of being a bin Laden bodyguard and an Al-Qaeda cameraman, was tried at the remote U.S. military base for pretrial arguments.

Army Colonel Peter E. Brownback, the presiding officer, temporarily halted the proceedings five minutes after they began because Bahlul was not provided with a headset to hear interpretations.

Bahlul acknowledged in an earlier hearing that he is "from Al-Qaeda" and says he wants to represent himself. He has refused to meet with Fleener.

Only nine of the approximately 500 Guantanamo prisoners have been charged with crimes, and the legal advisor to the tribunals has said that probably no more than 50 to 75 ever will be.

Amnesty called on Wednesday for increased pressure to be put on the U.S. government for the prisoners to be either released or given a fair trial and repeated its view Guantanamo should be shut and an inquiry launched into the torture claims.

"In Guantanamo, around 500 men have been treated with complete and utter disdain of the type that nobody should be forced to endure," it said in a statement.

"It isn't surprising that after years of uncertainty about their fate, some of these men have expressed their intention to die rather than remain in Guantanamo indefinitely."

The most detailed testimony came from Jumaa al-Dossari, a 32-year-old Bahraini national who was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001 and taken to Guantanamo in January 2002.

In a graphic account of his detention, given to Amnesty through his lawyer, he repeated claims made by a former detainee last year that U.S. soldiers regularly desecrated copies of the Koran.

He also spoke of beatings, sexual assaults, threats to his family and having to endure lengthy periods in solitary confinement, plus disease, illness and infection being rife among those held at the camp.

Journalist Sami al Hajj, a 35-year-old Sudanese national working for Arabic satellite news channel Al-Jazeera, made similar allegations after being detained following an assignment covering the 2002 conflict in Afghanistan.

Amnesty said he has been interrogated constantly about possible links between his Qatar-based employers and the Al-Qaeda network.

Beirut,01 16 2006
The Daily Star
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