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U.S. To Review Its Afghan Prisons

This file photo shows Afghan prisoners watching Taliban prisoners, unseen, from a window of Kabul's prison in Afghanistan, May 10, 2003. The U.S. military has cut the amount of time prisoners spend at holding facilities on base in Afghanistan while authorities investigate allegations of abuse, including two deaths, the top general in the country said Tuesday, May 11, 2004, in Kabul. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
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The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan has instructed a fellow general to carry out a "top to bottom" review of American holding facilities across Afghanistan, the military said Wednesday, in an effort to fend off growing allegations of prisoner abuse.

Expanding on a brief announcement Tuesday by the U.S. ambassador, military spokesman Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager said the appointed general would visit each of around 20 American prisons across the country and report to the commander, Lt. Gen. David Barno, by mid-June.

"Portions" of the report would be made public, the spokesman said.

"He will also ensure all facilities are adequate, and procedures are in accordance with the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and are being followed correctly and fully, and that staffing and capabilities are adequate to the task," Mansager said.

He didn't identify the general who would carry out the review, or whether he was an American or from one of the other nations contributing troops to the hunt for Taliban and al Qaeda rebels in Afghanistan.

Under intensified scrutiny because of the scandal over prisoner abuse in Iraq, the U.S. military last week announced two new investigations into allegations of mistreatment by former Afghan detainees, including beatings and sexual abuse.

But it has resisted calls from an Afghan human rights group as well as the media for access to the jails to see if Iraq-style abuses were taking place.

Mansager said the military saw no reason to change its policy of granting access only to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Red Cross officials visit only the main Bagram facility, north of Kabul, and their reports are confidential.

"It is the coalition's position that allowing media into those facilities would compromise that protection" afforded by the Geneva Conventions, the international accords governing the treatment of prisoners of war, Mansager said.

Still, he said Barno has yet to respond to a request from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission for access.

The U.S. military is also facing criticism for the lack of results from criminal investigations into the deaths of three prisoners in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003. Military autopsies found that two had died as a result of "blunt force injuries."

Officials say they've had troubled finding and interviewing the soldiers involved in those two cases.

Hundreds of suspected Taliban and al Qaeda fighters have been held without charge at American jails across the country since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001. Many of them have been transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the U.S. military classifies detainees as "unlawful combatants" and denies them legal representation.

The military says it made changes to its prison regime in early 2003 in the light of the three prisoner deaths, and is now transferring prisoners more quickly from outlying jails to Bagram.