US report urges changes in Afghan detainee policy

Mon Jul 20, 2009 1:54pm EDT

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* Report recommends isolating religious extremists

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WASHINGTON, July 20 (Reuters) - A U.S. military report on detainees in Afghanistan calls for changes in both U.S. and Afghan prison systems to prevent Islamist radicalization behind bars, U.S. military officials said on Monday.

As authorities in Afghanistan brace for a new wave of detainees from stepped-up U.S. and NATO military operations, officials said the report recommends that detention facilities separate militant religious extremists from each other and the general prison population.

The report by Marine Major General Douglas Stone also calls for vocational training for other detainees, as well as religious instruction from moderate Muslim clerics who reject the harsh theology of the Taliban.

Officials said the policy changes could help reconcile many Taliban fighters with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a step viewed as vital for stabilizing the war-torn country.

Much of the Stone report is intended to assist the U.S. State Department in efforts to improve the Afghan Ministry of Justice's 15,000-prisoner jail system, which U.S. officials say is overcrowded, violent and corrupt.

The report recommends the United States help Afghanistan segment its prison population by providing money and other aid for a new prison to house hard-core Islamists, officials said.

Stone, an architect of changes to the U.S. detainee system in Iraq, reviewed the U.S. and Afghan systems at the request of Army General David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees American military interests in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Navy Lieutenant Commander Bill Speaks, a Centcom spokesman, said the U.S. military has already implemented many of the recommendations including the separation of prisoners. But he declined to discuss the recommendations in detail.

A new $60 million, 40-acre (16 hectare) U.S. prison, expected to open in the autumn at Bagram air base, will allow for more robust prisoner segregation and job training, officials said.

The new facility will replace the current U.S. prison at Bagram, which has become for Afghans a symbol of detainee abuses after the deaths of two detainees in 2002.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Eric Beech)




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