Bush faces new allegations of torture

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The Independent US

The US yesterday came under fierce new criticism, both at home and from international human rights groups, for its treatment of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The US yesterday came under fierce new criticism, both at home and from international human rights groups, for its treatment of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

In its latest report to the US government, the International Committee of the Red Cross has again complained abut conditions at Guantanamo Bay, where some 600 people, most captured in Afghanistan, have been held for two years or more in total isolation, without charges and access to lawyers.

No details were made public about the new document, which follows another report, leaked last week, describing as "tantamount to torture" some of the techniques applied to prisoners in US-run jails in Iraq. But both Pentagon and ICRC officials said the language was critical of the US authorities.

In Geneva, a Red Cross spokesman confirmed yesterday that concerns dating back to last year about conditions at Guantanamo Bay had still not been properly addressed.

The ICRC criticism comes as the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal shows no sign of abating. The Pentagon is agonizing whether to release hitherto unpublished photos and video clips said to show even more horrific and depraved goings-on at Abu Ghraib prison, while doubts continue to swirl over Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary.

Yesterday Mr Rumsfeld, plainly invigorated by an enthusiastic welcome at a "town hall" meeting with US troops during his surprise visit to Baghdad, signalled again he had no intention of resigning.

But his fate is ultimately beyond his control. If either President Bush decides a change at the helm of the Pentagon is essential to revive his re-election prospects, or top Republicans on Capitol Hill lose confidence in him, then he will have to go.

The Bush administration line is that the Iraq prisoner abuse is the work of a few "bad apples". But the fresh complaints, coupled with new allegations of brutal CIA treatment of al-Qa'ida captives, will increase fears that the problem is systemic.

According to the New York Times, senior al-Qa'ida figures, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, believed to be one of the planners of the 11 September attacks, have been subjected to threats of shooting or drowning, under secret rules approved by the CIA and the Justice Department.

So harsh are some of the methods used, counter-terrorism officials told the newspaper, that the FBI has told its agents to steer clear of these sessions, for fear they could be compromised in subsequent criminal trials where such interrogation techniques would be illegal. The al-Qa'ida and other terrorist suspects are being held in secrecy. How many they are, and where they are detained, is not known. No human rights groups or outsiders have been allowed access. Most have never been identified. But now some CIA officers are said to fear that public outrage at the treatment of detainees in Iraq might lead to closer scrutiny of the treatment of al-Qa'ida detainees.

"Some people have have been concerned for quite a while that eventually there would be a new president, or the mood in the country would change, and they would be held accountable," one official told the New York Times. "Now that's happening faster than anybody expected."

Many of the al-Qa'ida detainees are believed to be in Aghanistan, the subject of a blistering statement from the Human Rights Watch group, alleging that abuse of prisoners in US custody is widespread.

Human Rights Watch is most concerned by the cases of three Afghans who died at US detention centres. John Sifton, an HRW specialist on Afghanistan, said the group had repeatedly warned the US authorities about the problem since 2003. "US must publicise its investigations of abuse, fully prosecute those responsible, and allow independent monitors," he said.