KABUL, Afghanistan – Facing pressure to open its secretive jails to outside scrutiny, the U.S. military said Wednesday it will allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (search) to visit a second holding facility in Afghanistan.
The U.S.-led coalition has about 20 jails across the country, holding nearly 400 prisoners, but the Red Cross is currently only allowed to monitor conditions at the main one at coalition headquarters at Bagram Air Base (search), north of the capital Kabul.
The top U.S. general in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Barno, has acceded to a request from the ICRC to visit the American prison in the southern province of Kandahar (search), military spokesman Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager told reporters.
Mansager said details of the visit would be worked out between the ICRC and the U.S. military, including whether repeat visits will be necessary.
The prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq has focussed more attention on long-standing allegations of detainee mistreatment by the U.S. military in Afghanistan, including claims of beatings, hooding and sexual abuse.
U.S. investigations are underway into at least three deaths in custody: two homicides caused by "blunt force injuries" at Bagram in December 2002, and another detainee death in eastern Afghanistan in June 2003.
A review of conditions at the U.S. jails, being conducted by Barno's operational deputy, Brig. Gen. Charles Jacoby, is due for completion in mid-June. Barno has promised "rapid action" in response to the findings, but maintains that details of techniques used on suspects will remain classified.
The U.S. military has so far refused to allow Afghanistan's human rights commission to any of the prisons in the country.