Former Afghan prisoner says he was abused in U.S. custody

SHEIKHO, Afghanistan -- An Afghan police colonel said Wednesday that he was beaten, stripped naked and sexually abused and humiliated while in U.S. custody for nearly 40 days last year at several bases in Afghanistan. The military said it has opened an inquiry.

Sayed Nabi Siddiqui said interrogators punched him, held his head down with their boots and put their fingers in his anus while accusing him of working for the Taliban. He said the abuse occurred while he was held at a U.S. base in Gardez, a town 60 miles south of the Afghan capital.

"I said, you are animals. This is like the jungle. This is not human," Siddiqui told The Associated Press at his home in a village outside Gardez.

His allegations are similar to those against several U.S. soldiers accused of abusing prisoners in Iraq. Siddiqui first made the accusations in a complaint to an Afghan rights group in August 2003, well before the Iraqi cases became public.

U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager said an inquiry was launched by the Army's Criminal Investigation Department after Siddiqui was interviewed by The New York Times. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the newspaper's report was the first time the allegations had come to the attention of military authorities.

Ahmed Zia Langari, a member of the Afghan Human Rights Commission, said it informed the United Nations last August of Siddiqui's case and requested help in setting up a meeting with coalition forces. No meeting has taken place, he said.

Langari said the group is aware of 44 complaints of ill-treatment at the hands of U.S. forces, but only Siddiqui's involved allegations of torture.

The commission has requested access to the U.S. jail at Bagram, the American forces' headquarters in Afghanistan, and to holding facilities elsewhere, but the military has so far refused, Langari said. Mansager said the request was "being mulled over."

President Hamid Karzai's office on Wednesday expressed concern over the allegations that an Afghan prisoner had been "mistreated and abused," and welcomed the U.S. military inquiry.

The alleged abuse took place between July 15 and August 20, 2003, at holding facilities in Gardez, at the southern city of Kandahar, and at the U.S. military headquarters at Bagram north of Kabul, Siddiqui said.

In Gardez, he said, his interrogators laughed at him and said his wife and daughters were prostitutes and his sons were beggars.

At one point he prayed to Allah, and his interrogators told him: "Don't call out to your God. He's not here for you."

Siddiqui said the Americans threatened to take him to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"They asked me if I knew who Fidel Castro was, and I said he was the communist leader of Cuba," Siddiqui said. "They said they would take me to Cuba some day and then they burst out laughing."

Siddiqui said he was an honest policeman who favored the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. He believed he been denounced as a Taliban agent by an enemy of his family.

"I was an officer in the criminal department (in Gardez) working against terrorists, and I was committed to my job," he said. He said he was dismissed during his detention.

Siddiqui said that about July 15, his commanding officer called him in to the police station in Gardez and told him to go to the base with American soldiers.

He said he was held there for 22 days, and beaten each day by six or seven people, some American and some Afghan. He said he was blindfolded during interrogations, but could see the flash of photography.

"They stood around me and put their fingers in my anus ... and just laughed and laughed," he said.

Siddiqui was taken by helicopter to Kandahar, where he spent about 10 more days in U.S. custody. He said he was told to knee and soldiers brought dogs into the cell and threatened him and other detainees.

One dog was called "Mosque," he said, a slight to Islamic houses of worship. Many Muslims considered dogs filthy animals.

Finally, he was brought to Bagram, Siddiqui said, where he was held for about a week.

He was released August 20 with a note from U.S. military police saying no charges were being brought against him.

On Tuesday, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan said the military had made "significant changes" to the way it handles prisoners in Afghanistan after alleged abuse, including the deaths of three prisoners.

Lt. Gen. David Barno said the military had investigated "challenges and problems" at outlying bases and decided to transfer suspects to Bagram more quickly.

The U.S. military views Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners as "unlawful combatants," and has held hundreds captured in the war that ousted the Taliban in late 2001 for more than two years without formal charge.