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Army Probes Afghan Prisoners' Deaths

Military coroners have ruled as homicides the deaths in December of two prisoners at a U.S. base in Afghanistan, a military spokesman said.

A U.S. Army investigation of the deaths continues, said Col. Roger King, a spokesman for U.S. forces at the base in Bagram, Afghanistan.

The two prisoners died last Dec. 3 and Dec. 10 at the makeshift prison in the U.S. compound at the Afghan base north of Kabul. The autopsies that labeled the deaths as homicides found that the men had been beaten, and one had a blood clot in his lung, King said.

American forces are holding an unknown number of prisoners at Bagram. A Pakistani official has said the prisoners include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the top al Qaeda leader captured over the weekend in Pakistan.

A human rights group called in December for an independent investigation of allegations of torture at Bagram.

U.S. officials insist they eschew physical, violent torture. But rights groups claim that prisoners at Bagram are subjected to other methods of influence, including covering prisoner's eyes or faces, forcing them to stand or sit in uncomfortable positions and sleep deprivation.

"We don't sanction torture but there are psychological and other ways that we can get most of what we need," Sen. Jay Rockefeller, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said after Mohammed's arrest.

The detention of prisoners at Bagram and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has itself drawn scorn from rights advocates, who assert that the United States has contravened international law by failing to charge them with crimes or release them — as typically occurs with prisoners of war once hostilities cease.

U.S. plans to hold military tribunals for some detainees have also been criticized. Tribunals would be closed to the public and provide fewer rights to the accused.

The Bush administration contends that the "war on terrorism" is not over: that with thousands of American troops still in the country, hunting pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban remnants, hostilities have not ceased.

The administration contends tribunals are necessary to protect evidence with national security implications.

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