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Group Claims U.S. Ran Secret Afghanistan Prison

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Group Claims U.S. Ran Secret Afghanistan Prison

Middle East

Group Claims U.S. Ran Secret Afghanistan Prison

Group Claims U.S. Ran Secret Afghanistan Prison

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Human Rights Watch says it believes the United States operated a secret prison in Afghanistan that engaged in torture and abuse as early as 2002 and as late as last year. The claim is based on accounts from eight detainees at Guantanamo Bay, given to their lawyers.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Human Rights Watch says it believes the United States operated a secret prison in Afghanistan that engaged in torture and abuse as early as 2002 and as late as last year. It bases that claim on descriptions that eight detainees at Guantanamo Bay gave to their lawyers who passed them on to the human rights group. The CIA would not comment on the report, but a spokesman told NPR that the agency does not engage in torture. NPR's Libby Lewis reports.

LIBBY LEWIS reporting:

Human Rights Watch says the reports from detainees offer consistent accounts about a place they called the `dark prison' because they were kept in total darkness, some for weeks at a time. Benyam Mohammed, an Ethiopian native raised in Britain, told his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, he was held at the dark prison in 2004. Here's what Mohammed told Smith. `It was pitch black. No lights on in the rooms for most of the time. They hung me up. I was allowed a few hours of sleep on the second day. Then hung up again, this time for two days. My legs had swollen. My wrists and hands had gone numb. There was loud music, Eminem, Slim Shady and Dr. Dre for 20 days. Then they changed the sounds to horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds. At one point, I was chained to the rail for a fortnight. The CIA worked on people, including me day and night. Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off.' The detainees told their lawyers they were deprived of sleep, food and water and shackled to rings in their cells. John Sifton, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said his group has been trying to get the stories of Guantanamo detainees the only way they can, through their lawyers.

Mr. JOHN SIFTON (Researcher, Human Rights Watch): A lot of the detainees there were initially held in Afghanistan and there's a small number of them who were held, not by the military, but by the CIA. And it's from those detainees that we've gathered this information. This is the only way we can get this information, because there are no other detainees who've been released who've been held at this facility. So this is it.

LEWIS: CIA spokesman Paul Gimiano(ph) said that the CIA declines to confirm this account in any way, but he said the CIA does not torture. There's no way to verify the detainees' accounts.

Mr. PAUL GIMIANO (Spokesman, CIA): These stories may be true. They may be false. But whatever the situation was two years ago, right now the world is prepared to believe the worst.

LEWIS: Steve Salzberg is a law professor and general counsel to the National Institute of Military Justice. He says the report has the ring of truth.

Professor STEVE SALZBERG (Law, General Counsel, National Institute of Military Justice): Because of the secrecy with which the government has operated and the abuses that we already know have come to light. And if there's an allegation made, the presumption is that's it's true. And that's a terrible thing because it didn't use to be that way.

LEWIS: John Sifton says the government should call for a special investigator to look into alleged mistreatment of people in US detention facilities abroad.

Mr. SIFTON: We can't keep saying, as the administration does, it's just a few bad apples--Abu Ghraib. This is not about the night shift at Abu Ghraib. We're very far from Abu Ghraib. We're talking about Afghanistan before the Iraq War even began.

LEWIS: The report comes as Congress is poised to vote on the bill to ban torture of detainees in US custody.

Libby Lewis, NPR News, Washington.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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