ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Amnesty International accused Pakistan on Friday of taking hundreds of people into custody on suspicion of terrorism and holding them in secret locations or handing them to U.S. authorities for money.
Pakistan's practice of offering rewards running to thousands of dollars for unidentified terror suspects has led to illegal detentions of innocent people, said Claudio Cordone, senior director of research at Amnesty International.
"Bounty hunters — including police officers and local people — have captured individuals of different nationalities, often apparently at random, and sold them into U.S. custody," he said.
Pakistani government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
The human rights group made its claims in a new report titled "Human Rights Ignored in the War on Terror," which charges Pakistan, a key U.S. ally, with systematic human rights abuses against Pakistani and foreign suspects.
The Amnesty allegations, largely based on interviews with former detainees, come days after the country's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, revealed in his memoir, "In The Line of Fire," that Pakistan had captured 689 Al Qaeda terror suspects, and turned over 369 to Washington.
"We have earned bounties totaling millions of dollars," Musharraf said, without specifying how much was paid.
During his trip to the United States this week, Musharraf said in a TV interview that CIA agents were working in this South Asian country, particularly in the southwestern city of Quetta, searching for militants with their Pakistani counterparts.
Cordone said many detainees ended up in secret locations or at U.S. prisons including those at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Bagram, Afghanistan.
"Hundreds of people have been picked up in mass arrests, many have been sold to the U.S.A as 'terrorists' simply on the word of their captor, and hundreds have been transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Air base or secret detention centers run by the USA." he said. "The road to Guantanamo very literally starts in Pakistan," Cordone said.
Amnesty said numerous detainees claimed that U.S. agents were present during interrogations that took place in Pakistan. The report also details the alleged "unlawful transfer" of detainees into U.S. custody, including a Pakistani chicken farmer who was accused of being a deputy foreign minister for the Taliban and sent to Guantanamo Bay.
In a statement, Amnesty said such detainees also are at "risk of torture and unlawful transfer to third countries."
Many innocents, including children, have also been rounded up in Pakistan under the pretext of the war on terror, the Amnesty report said.
"Some (children) were arrested alongside their adult relatives, some were themselves alleged to be terror suspects and some were held as hostages to make relatives give themselves up or confess," Amnesty said in the executive summary of the report, which is to be released in Islamabad later Friday.
The report said three women and five children were detained during the July 2004 arrest of Al Qaeda suspect Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian, who was allegedly involved in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa that killed more than 200 people.
Ghailani was arrested after a gunbattle in Gujrat in eastern Pakistan. Among those reportedly taken into custody with him were a baby and a 13-year-old Saudi boy identified only as Talha.
"Nothing is known about the fate and whereabouts of the women and children," Amnesty said.
The report also detailed the detentions and killings of reporters and activists allegedly targeted by Pakistani authorities. These include Hayatullah Khan, a journalist whose bullet-riddled body was found in the North Waziristan tribal region in June, more than six months after being detained.
Khan disappeared Dec. 5, 2005, days after he photographed shrapnel from a Hellfire missile allegedly fired by an unmanned American aerial drone that killed a wanted Egyptian Al Qaeda figure, Hamza Rabia, in the North Waziristan town of Mir Ali.
The photos sparked mass protests across Pakistan and spurred criticism of Islamabad's ties with Washington.
Members of Khan's family accused Pakistan's intelligence service of involvement, but authorities denied that. No one has claimed responsibility.