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Torture blamed for detainee deaths

From correspondents in Washington

02/23/06 "The Australian" -- -- AT least eight detainees of the roughly 100 who have died in US military custody in Iraq and Afghanistan were tortured to death, human rights lawyers said in a report released today.

"These are detainees who were beaten, suffocated or otherwise died in circumstances that meet the definition of torture that is in the federal law that bans the practice," said Hina Shamsi, a lawyer for New York-based Human Rights First and author of the report.

Analysing military documents and press accounts, Human Rights First examined 98 detainee deaths, and concluded that torture by US military personnel caused eight deaths and may have been responsible for four others.

All of the deaths have been disclosed previously.

The Pentagon said at least 108 detainees have died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002, not counting those killed in insurgent mortar attacks on jail facilities.

"Critically, only half of the cases of detainees tortured to death have resulted in punishment; the steepest sentence for anyone implicated in a torture-related death has been five months in jail," the report said.

The military has said it has a policy against torture, but has acknowledged using interrogation techniques that include placing detainees in stress positions.

US soldiers at Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq were also pictured sexually humiliating prisoners and menacing them with dogs.

The report said that of the 98 deaths it examined, only 12 led to punishment of any kind for US personnel.

"People are dying in US custody and no one's being held to account," said Deborah Pearlstein, who heads the Human Rights First US law and security program.

The Australian

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