LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Nigerian military abuses have caused the deaths of some 8,000 civilians in the fight against Boko Haram extremists, Amnesty International said in a report released Wednesday.
The London-based human rights group named senior officers it wanted tried for alleged war crimes and called on Nigeria's newly-elected government, led by former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari, to look into the abuses.
"The Nigerian military, including senior military commanders, must be investigated for participating in, sanctioning or failing to prevent the deaths of more than 8,000 people murdered, starved, suffocated, and tortured to death."
If correct, those figures would exponentially increase the estimated toll from the nearly 6-year-old Islamic uprising, put at about 13,000 dead.
Nigeria's Ministry of Defense denounced the report as "biased" and another attempt by the organization to "blackmail" the military hierarchy.
Boko Haram has been fighting to impose Islamic Law across Nigeria's north, massacring civilians and kidnapping thousands of women and children, but Amnesty alleges that the military also has committed atrocities.
The soldiers have detained more than 20,000 people — some boys as young as 9 and often on scant evidence — and then held them in brutal conditions that resulted in many deaths, alleged the report.
"Former detainees and senior military sources described how detainees were regularly tortured to death — hung on poles over fires, tossed into deep pits or interrogated using electric batons," said the report.
The organization called for the Nigerian government to promptly investigate five officers for war crimes: Maj. Gen. John A.H. Ewansiha, Maj. Gen. Obida T. Ethnan, Maj. Gen. Ahmadu Mohammed, Brig. Gen. Austin O. Edokpayi and Brig. Gen. Rufus O. Bamigboye.
It also said the chiefs of defense and army staff, and their two predecessors, should be investigated for potential command responsibility.
Amnesty said it interviewed 412 people over several years for 130-page report, including victims, relatives, witnesses and activists as well as military officials.
The military spokesman Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade said past allegations had been investigated and there had been no proof to justify prosecution.
In his inaugural address Friday, Buhari promised to investigate any alleged abuses.
Such reports have strained relations between the United States and Nigeria because U.S. laws prohibit sales of certain weapons to the countries of military forces accused of gross human rights violations.