U.S. had advance warning of abuse at Afghan prisons, officials say
Oct. 30, 2011
By Joshua Partlow and Julie Tate
KABUL — Across the street from U.S. military headquarters in Kabul, shrouded from view by concrete walls, the Afghan intelligence agency runs a detention facility for up to 40 terrorism suspects that is known as Department 124. So much torture took place inside, one detainee told the United Nations, that it has earned another name: “People call it Hell.”
But long before the world body publicly revealed “systematic torture” in Afghan intelligence agency detention centers, top officials from the State Department, CIA and U.S. military received multiple warnings about abuses at Department 124 and other Afghan facilities, according to Afghan and Western officials with knowledge of the situation.
Despite the warnings, the United States continued to transfer detainees to Afghan intelligence service custody, the officials said. Even as other countries stopped handing over detainees to problematic facilities, the U.S. government did not.
U.S. Special Operations troops delivered detainees to Department 124. CIA officials regularly visited the facility, which was rebuilt last year with American money, to interrogate high-level Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects, according to Afghan and Western officials familiar with the site. Afghan intelligence officials said Americans never participated in the torture but should have known about it.
When the United Nations brought allegations of widespread detainee abuse on Aug. 30 to Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. military commander here, he took swift action ahead of the public release of the findings. Coalition troops stopped transferring detainees to Department 124 and 15 other police and intelligence agency prisons. They also hastily began a program to monitor those facilities and conduct human rights classes for interrogators.
But the prospect that U.S. officials failed to act on prior warnings raises questions about their compliance with a law, known as the Leahy Amendment, that prohibits the United States from funding units of foreign security forces when there is credible evidence they have committed human rights abuses. The State Department is now investigating whether the law applies and what funding might be affected, according to U.S. officials.
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