Amnesty International said Monday that Egypt's military rulers have acknowledged carrying out so-called virginity tests on female protesters - the first time the army has admitted to the much-criticized practice, The Associated Press reported.

Maj. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a member of the military council ruling Egypt since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, justified the practice as a means to protect the army from rape allegations, Amnesty said.

The rights group said, however, that al-Sisi has promised the military will no longer conduct these tests.

The virginity test allegations initially surfaced after a March 9 rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square, in which a protest turned violent when plainclothes men attacked protestors; the army forcefully intervened to clear the square.

Amnesty has reportedly found 18 female detainees who were forced to undergo the virginity tests.

Subjecting women to such degrading procedures hoping to show that they were not raped in detention makes no sense, and was nothing less than torture, Amnesty International Secretary General, Salil Shetty, said in a statement by the group.

The government should now provide reparation to the victims, including medical and psychological support, and apologize to them for their treatment, Shetty, who met with the military council, said.

Since Mubarak's fall on Feb. 11, the military has cracked down on peaceful protests; critics say it has failed to restore security in the streets or to engage in serious national political dialogue.