By Frank Jack Daniel
KABUL (Reuters) - The final few inmates of U.S.-run prisons near Kabul, scenes of abuse highlighted by a U.S. Senate report this week, are now in an Afghan detention system with its own grisly record of torture, their lawyer said on Thursday.
But the government in Kabul vowed they would be safe and not mistreated.
Afghan security forces, including the army that runs the detention facility where the foreign inmates are believed to be held, regularly engage in torture of conflict-related detainees, several reports by the United Nations and rights groups say.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) said on Dec. 2 that common Afghan interrogation techniques included beatings, suspension by the wrists or ankles, electric shocks, twisting and wrenching of the genitals and burning with cigarettes.
According to the Senate report, two Tunisian inmates transferred to Afghan custody this week suffered harsh treatment while in a CIA prison in Afghanistan 12 years ago and have been held in different U.S. facilities ever since.
They are now believed to be at a large detention center that was formerly part of the U.S.-run Bagram facility.
A lawyer representing the two, Redah al Najar and Lufti al Gharisi, said they had wanted to return to their home country rather than be transferred to an Afghan prison.
"We are extremely concerned about our clients who have been handed over to the Afghan authorities," said Tina Foster, a New York-based lawyer. "They face a very real risk of being tortured - again."
REPATRIATION MAY COME SOON
Al Najar was picked up in Pakistan in May, 2002 and the U.S. government suspects him of being a former bodyguard to Osama Bin Laden. Like other suspects picked up on battlefields around the world in the U.S. "war on terror", al Najar was never charged.
The office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said fears about the treatment of the detainees were unfounded.
Spokesman Nazifullah Salarzai said they would not face torture and that the government was committed to weeding out any cases of abuse of prisoners.
"We hear about these things, and we do seek assessment from our independent human rights commission, and we are strongly committed to eliminating any abuse or mistreatment in case it exists," Salarzai said.
A senior government official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, said he expected the inmates to be transferred to their home countries fairly soon.
"We stand ready to help the Afghans repatriate or resettle our clients," Foster said.
"We are hopeful that the Afghans will act more responsibly than the Americans and allow us to assist our clients so they can finally get home to their families or to safe third countries."
Adding to her concerns, Foster said she had no idea of the whereabouts of four other clients she believed were being held at Bagram when it closed on Dec. 10, the day after the U.S. Senate report.
The U.S. government said the timing was linked to an agreement with Afghanistan, not the report.
"The (U.S.) government's lawyers claim to have no information at this point. This is the second time the U.S. government has 'disappeared' our clients."
The U.S. military said it had just three detainees in custody in Afghanistan on Dec. 9. Two were sent to Afghan custody "for potential prosecution."
One was released and will be resettled with the assistance of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said Myles B Caggins III, a Pentagon spokesman for detainee policy. He said the transfers were consistent with U.S. security requirements and humane treatment policy.
Rights groups say torture in detention was common in Afghanistan before the U.S.-led war on the Taliban that followed the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and that it remains engrained in Afghan forces trained and funded by the U.S. government.
The ICC singled out the national intelligence agency as the worst offender, but said there were also credible allegations of abuse by local police and the army.
(Editing by Mike Collett-White)