Afghan president demands "very, very strong" action against U.S. military personnel abusing detainees

Afghanistan's president on Saturday demanded "very, very strong" action by the United States against any military personnel found to be abusing prisoners, after a newspaper report alleged maltreatment of detainees at the main U.S. base here.

President Hamid Karzai said he will bring up the issue when he meets American leaders during a four-day visit to the United States starting Saturday.

He also demanded greater control over U.S. military operations here, including a stop to raids by American troops on Afghans' homes without the knowledge of his administration.

"No operations inside Afghanistan should take place without the consultation of the Afghan government," the president said.

The abuse allegations were in a New York Times report Friday that cited a 2,000-page confidential file on the Army's criminal investigation into the deaths of the two Afghans at the Bagram base north of the capital, Kabul, in December 2002.

"It has shocked me totally. We condemn it. We want the U.S. government to take very, very strong action to take away people like that are working with their forces in Afghanistan," Karzai told reporters before leaving Kabul. "Definitely ... I will see about that when I am in the United States."

But he added that the actions of those responsible for the abuse should not be seen as reflective of all Americans.

"The people of the United States are very kind people," he said. "It is only one or two individuals who are bad, and such individuals are found in any military in any society everywhere, including Afghanistan."

The U.S. military, responding to the allegations, has defended its treatment of detainees, saying it would not tolerate maltreatment.

The U.S. military spokesman in Kabul, Col. James Yonts, said, "Military and civilian members are expected to abide by the highest standards and when their actions contradict these standards appropriate action will be taken. The command has made it very clear that any incidents of abuse will not be tolerated."

In Washington, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said U.S. President George W. Bush was "alarmed by the reports of prisoner abuse," and wants them thoroughly investigated. He said seven people are being investigated about abuse at Bagram Air Base.

"What the military and what the president supported is investigations, holding people to account," Duffy said. "We've taken steps, we've taken new policies to ensure that this doesn't happen again, and we're holding people to account."

The Times reported that the file of the criminal investigation "depicts poorly trained soldiers in repeated incidents of abuse," which in some instances "was directed or carried out by interrogators to extract information."

It reported that one of the two Afghans, a 22-year old taxi driver called Dilawar, had been pummeled on his legs by guards for several days and chained with his arms to the ceiling. Most of the interrogators believed he was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the base at the wrong time, the newspaper said.

The Army has publicly acknowledged the two deaths and announced in October that up to 28 U.S. soldiers face possible charges in connection with what were ruled homicides.

In December, Pentagon officials confirmed that eight deaths of detainees in Afghanistan have been investigated since mid-2002. Hundreds of people were detained during and after the campaign by U.S.-led forces to oust the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001.

Following the outcry over abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the military also initiated a review of its detention facilities in Afghanistan and later said it had modified some of its procedures, although the review's findings have yet to be made public.

DANIEL COONEY, Associated Press Writer

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