WASHINGTON -- A human rights group said yesterday that the United States operated a secret prison for terrorism suspects as recently as last year in Afghanistan, where detainees were subjected to torture and other mistreatment.
The Bush administration has faced international criticism over detainees after a Nov. 2 article in The
Human Rights Watch said eight detainees being held in the US military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have told their attorneys that they were arrested separately in countries in Asia and the Middle East and flown to Afghanistan at various times between 2002 and 2004.
The men were taken to a prison near Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. There, the detainees were shackled to walls, kept in darkness for weeks, deprived of food and water for days at a time, bombarded with loud rap and heavy metal music, and punched and slapped during questioning by US interrogators, said Human Rights Watch, which is based in New York.
''The prison may have been operated by personnel from the Central Intelligence Agency," the group said in a report released yesterday.
It said the facility, which detainees called the ''dark prison," may have been closed after several prisoners were transferred to a main military detention site outside Bagram in late 2004.
''Without confirming that account in any way, I would underscore that the CIA does not torture," CIA spokeswoman Michele Neff said in response to the Human Rights Watch report.
A Human Rights Watch report at the time of The Washington Post's report said the group believed that secret prisons were operating in Poland and Romania.
President Bush agreed last week to back legislation banning inhumane treatment of prisoners in US custody.
The administration has been under intense political pressure to address the issue.
A week earlier, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Europe and gave assurances that the United States had done nothing unlawful.
In its latest report, Human Rights Watch said it was not able to speak directly with detainees and based its conclusions on accounts provided through the men's lawyers.
The United States has not allowed rights organizations to visit detainees at Guantanamo Bay or other overseas detention sites.
But the group said the allegations were credible enough to warrant an official investigation.
''The detainees offer consistent accounts about the facility, saying that US and Afghan guards were not in uniform and that US interrogators did not wear military uniforms," the group said.
None of the eight detainees, who include a Yemeni and an Ethiopian-born man who grew up in Britain, spent more than six weeks at a time in the facility near Kabul, the group said.