|Gates blocks abuse photos release
The US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has blocked the publication of further images of US soldiers abusing foreign detainees.
The US administration filed a request with the Supreme Court late on Friday preventing the release of the photos.
The order refers to some 40 images, including some of prisoners being abused in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Last month, Congress gave Mr Gates new powers to prevent their release under a law signed by the US president.
A Pentagon spokesman said that the order covers images related to investigations into allegations of abuse carried out outside the US between 11 September 2001 and 22 January 2009.
He suggested that releasing the pictures would put US soldiers at risk.
"Public disclosure of these photographs would endanger citizens of the US, members of the US armed forces, or employees of the US government deployed outside the US," Mr Gates said in the order filed with the court.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had sued for the release of 21 of the images.
The group says it will continue to press for the release of the images, arguing they represent "an important part of the historical record".
"They are critical to the ongoing national conversation about accountability for torture," ACLU's director Jameel Jaffer said.
Initially, Mr Obama had suggested that he would not attempt to block the release of the photographs but he reversed this decision in May.
He said then that the release of such images would be "of no benefit" and might inflame opinion against the US.
|New U.S. Afghan prison unveiled, rights groups wary
BAGRAM, Afghanistan - The U.S. military unveiled a new $60 million Afghan prison on Sunday it said would provide detainees better living conditions and promote transparency, but rights groups said the changes were not enough.
International media were allowed to visit the facility at Bagram Air Base, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, that will replace an existing prison which has drawn widespread criticism.
The new prison, which was completed in September and is still empty, will begin housing prisoners from the old facility in the next two weeks, with transfer of the roughly 700 detainees to be completed by the end of the year.
"The new facility ... provides improved detainee living conditions ... as well as vocational, technical, and other programmes to assist with peaceful reintegration of released detainees," said U.S. Brigadier General Mark Martins.
"This facility, and these reintegration programmes ... will promote transparency and legitimacy," Martins, interim commander for U.S. detainee operations in Afghanistan, told reporters at the base north of Kabul.
The existing Bagram prison has become a symbol of detainee abuses for Afghans after the deaths of two detainees in 2002. In June, the BBC reported allegations of abuse and neglect at the facility after interviewing 27 former inmates.
Asked how he would describe conditions there, Martins said it had always met international and domestic standards. No media has ever been allowed to visit the notorious detention facility.
SANCTUARIES FOR INSURGENTS
General Stanley McChrystal, U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has said insurgents use detention facilities as sanctuaries and has criticised U.S. facilities like Bagram, where prisoners have fewer rights than those held at Guantanamo Bay.
In September, the Pentagon announced that prisoners at Bagram prison would be able to have their detention reviewed roughly every six months and would be assigned personal representatives drawn from U.S. military ranks.
Those detainees' representatives would not be lawyers.
The new review process, the Pentagon says, is "consistent" with the counter-insurgency strategy put in place by McChrystal, aimed at winning public support and undercutting recent gains by the Taliban.
But rights groups say the measures do not go far enough and have called on President Barack Obama to revise U.S. detention policies in Afghanistan further.
"All detainees in Afghanistan are entitled to minimum protections, including the right to legal counsel, and to be able to challenge the legal and factual basis for the detention before an independent and impartial tribunal," three leading rights groups said in a statement.
"The U.S. reforms still fall short of providing detainees with those rights," Amnesty International, Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch said in the statement.
The new prison, which will cost another $67 million to start up, can house up to 1,100 detainees.
It includes classrooms and vocational facilities where detainees can be taught technical skills in agriculture, masonry and tailoring.
The long-term goal was also to train Afghan guards and eventually hand over the prison to the Afghans, Martins said.