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British Guantanamo detainee alleges torture, killings by U.S. forces

LONDON (AP) _ A Briton being held at Guantanamo Bay was tortured, held in solitary confinement for almost two years and ``partially witnessed'' U.S. military interrogators killing two detainees at an American base in Afghanistan, he said in a letter released by his lawyers Friday.

Moazzam Begg made the allegations in an uncensored letter that was released to his legal team by American officials _ something his lawyers described as an ``oddity.''

The Pentagon said its policy is to treat all prisoners humanely.

Begg, 36, is among four Britons being held at the U.S. prison camp for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Five other Britons were released this year, and Prime Minister Tony Blair has asked President Bush to free the remaining British detainees.

Begg's lawyers said they would file a lawsuit Monday demanding the United States stop what they called the ``inhumane treatment'' of Begg and urging the British government to press harder for his release.

In Begg's letter, handwritten in formal, legalistic language and dated July 12, he says he was kidnapped from his Pakistan home in January 2002 and taken to Afghanistan, where he was ``degraded and physically abused'' during a year at the U.S. military base near Kabul.

``During several interviews, particularly though unexclusively in Afghanistan, I was subjected to pernicious threats of torture, actual vindictive torture and death threats amongst other coercively employed interrogation techniques,'' Begg wrote.

He said interviews ``were conducted in an environment of generated fear resonant with terrifying screams of fellow detainees facing similar methods.''

``This culminated, in my opinion, with the deaths of two fellow detainees at the hands of U.S. military personnel, to which I myself was partially witness,'' Begg wrote.

He did not provide further details, but he referred to an earlier letter his lawyers said they had not seen. The lawyers said they could not reach Begg to ask him about the letter, and they did not clarify what ``partially witness'' meant.

Asked about the allegations, the Pentagon did not comment specifically on Begg's case but said ``all interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo are within the standards accepted internationally.''

U.S. policy prohibits torture, and American personnel are required to follow that policy, the Pentagon said.

``All detainees are treated humanely and to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity in accordance with the principles of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949,'' it said.

Credible allegations of illegal conduct by soldiers are taken seriously and investigated by the military, the Pentagon statement said.

Begg also alleged he had been held in solitary confinement since February 2003 and was forced to sign statements under threat of torture and ``long-term imprisonment, summary trials and execution.''

One of Begg's U.S.-based lawyers, Clive Stafford Smith, urged that any evidence of torture at the American facility be made public. He said another lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez, had met with Begg in August, but she was forbidden from revealing details of their discussions.

In the letter, Begg denied involvement with al-Qaida or any ``synonymous paramilitary organization.''

``I am a law-abiding citizen of the U.K. and attest vehemently to my innocence before God and the law of any crime, though none has ever been alleged,'' he said.

The letter was addressed ``to whom it may concern'' with a note that copies should go to Blair, the U.S. Supreme Court and Amnesty International, among others.

Gareth Peirce, a lawyer for Begg in Britain, said it was likely he had written many more letters that had not been declassified.

``The letter was processed out to her through the official military censorship channels and seems to be an oddity,'' Peirce told BBC radio. ``It refers to a previous letter that hasn't arrived.''

The Foreign Office said British officials had visited Begg and that he had not alleged any systematic abuse while at Guantanamo Bay.

The American military is looking into at least three deaths in U.S. custody in Afghanistan, dating to December 2002. It has yet to release the results of the investigations.

A CIA contractor has been charged in the United States with using a flashlight to beat a prisoner who later died in the eastern town of Asadabad in 2003.
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