March 28, 2007 / 11:24 PM / 10 years ago

Russia abused ex-Guantanamo detainees-rights group

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(Embargoed for release at 7:01 p.m. EDT Wednesday/2301 GMT Thursday)

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK, March 28 (Reuters) - Russian authorities tortured and abused former Guantanamo Bay detainees when they were returned home from the U.S. military prison camp for terrorist suspects, a human rights group said on Wednesday.

New York-based Human Rights Watch accused Moscow of reneging on a pledge to Washington that the seven detainees returned in 2004 after two years at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba would be treated humanely.

"Upon their return, the Russian authorities have variously harassed, detained, mistreated, and beaten the former Guantanamo detainees since they returned," a Human Rights Watch report, "Stamp of Guantanamo: The Story of Seven Men Betrayed by Russia's Diplomatic Assurances to the United States," said.

"Two of them have been tortured and are in prison after investigations and trials that did not meet international fair trial standards; one has been tortured and is in prison awaiting trial; the other four are either abroad or hiding."

The Russian Embassy in Washington was not immediately available for comment.

"Although they complained of mistreatment by the Americans, all of the detainees repeatedly asked authorities at Guantanamo not to be returned to Russia because they expected to be treated worse there," Human Rights Watch said.

The group called on the U.S. government to stop relying on diplomatic assurances that returned detainees would not be tortured and to ensure any person subject to a transfer is able to challenge that transfer before an impartial body.

U.S. Army Col. Gary Keck, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. government worked closely with any governments to whom it released detainees.

"It is expected that they will be treated humanely when they are transferred to those gaining governments," he said.

Human Rights Watch also said Washington should stop urging other governments to detain and prosecute Guantanamo detainees unless there is adequate evidence, and protest publicly and at diplomatic level against the mistreatment of former detainees.

"Immediate responsibility for the suffering of these seven Russian men lies of course with the Russian government. But the U.S. government must bear its share of the blame as well," the report said.

"Given the commonplace nature of torture by Russian law enforcement, it seems implausible that the Americans could have sent home these seven men, branded as they were by the 'stamp of Guantanamo,' and expected them to suffer anything less than the misery that they have, in fact, endured," it said. (Additional reporting by Kristen Roberts in Washington)

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