Red Cross probes deaths of Taliban prisoners

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

GENEVA -- The international Red Cross said Tuesday it was investigating reports that dozens of Taliban captives suffocated in shipping containers while being taken to prison in northern Afghanistan.

"Our staff on the ground are trying to get more information," said Macarena Aguilar, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"We don't have confirmation -- our staff first visited the prison at Shibarghan on Monday, after pushing for 10 days to be allowed to do so," Aguilar told The Associated Press.

The prison -- the largest in northern Afghanistan -- houses some 3,000 Taliban fighters, many of whom needed medical treatment, she said. ICRC workers had arranged for those needing surgery to be moved to a local hospital, she said.

Tuesday's New York Times quoted General Jubarek, a northern alliance commander in Shibarghan, as saying at least 43 fighters had died of wounds or asphyxiation while being moved in shipping containers from Kunduz.

The newspaper reported that hundreds of Taliban captives, many of them foreigners, were being transferred by the northern alliance from Kunduz to Shibarghan.

Foreign militants -- mostly Arabs and Pakistanis -- have fought alongside the Taliban against the northern alliance, some of them members of the al-Qaida network of Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, the chief suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said prisoners must be treated "in a manner that reflects our country's values" as well as "the seriousness of their situation and of our situation."

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