By Brad Poole
TUCSON, Ariz (Reuters) - Thousands of immigrants caught slipping into the United States illegally from Mexico were denied food, water and medical treatment or otherwise abused by Border Patrol agents, a report said on Wednesday..
The study by Tucson-based nonprofit No More Deaths was based on interviews with more than 12,000 undocumented immigrants conducted between 2008 and 2011, shortly after they were deported to Mexico.
The interviews showed that 2,981 of the returned migrants said they were denied food during Border Patrol detention, while 863 reported being denied water.
Of the 433 people who said they needed medical attention while in Border Patrol custody, 86 percent reported they were denied that care, the study said.
Other illegal immigrants were threatened with death, deprived of sleep and forced to hold painful or strenuous positions for no apparent reason, it said.
"Many of (the abuses) plainly meet the definition of torture under international law," the report said.
The Border Patrol made 447,500 apprehensions last year along the porous, nearly 2,000-mile southwest border with Mexico. Just under half of those were in the Tucson sector in southern Arizona, which straddles a heavily trafficked corridor for illegal immigrants and drug smugglers from Mexico.
The Border Patrol, in an e-mailed statement responding to the report, said its policies require that agents treat everyone they encounter with "respect and dignity."
"On a daily basis, agents make every effort to ensure that people in our custody are given food, water and medical attention as needed," the statement said.
"Any agent within our ranks that does not adhere to the highest standards of conduct will be identified and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken," it added.
Last month, two Border Patrol agents from the Tucson sector were indicted on charges they forced accused drug smugglers to eat marijuana and flee barefoot and nearly naked into the chilly Arizona desert.
Dario Castillo, 23, and Ramon Zuniga, 29, were charged with five civil rights violations by a federal grand jury in Tucson stemming from the November 2008 incident in Arizona, prosecutors said. Both were placed on administrative leave.
The study, titled "A Culture of Cruelty," is a follow-up to a similar but less comprehensive report issued by the organization in 2008 that was presented to the U.S. Congress and the Department of Homeland Security.
(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Cynthia Johnston)