Pentagon expanding Guantánamo-like prison in Afghanistan

By John Byrne
Thursday, May 13, 2010 9:38 EDT
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As President Barack Obama prepares to shutter the infamous US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, he appears to be supporting the expansion of another secretive prison in Afghanistan — at a pricetag of some $10 to $25 million.

In a little-noticed filing Wednesday, the US Army announced it is soliciting bids for the expansion of the US prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

The announced request for proposals says the Army seems a “build contract for three (3) new detention housing units to be located directly adjacent to the existing detention facility at Parwan. The three new detention housing units include one (1) Special Housing Unit (SHU) and two (2) Detention Housing Units (DHU).”

“The dollar magnitude of this project is between $10,000,000 and $25,000,000,” the Army adds.

The solicitation was first noticed by Nathan Hodge at Wired.com.

Hodge notes another startling fact — that the US is planning to shortly hand over the base, despite the fact that they’re going to spend more than $10 million on expanding it.

“Timing here is key: The jail is supposed to be handed over to Afghan control of the place, sometimes called ‘Obama’s Guantánamo,’ sometime next year,” Hodge writes. “Afghan and U.S. officials have signed an agreement to hand control of the Parwan facility to the Afghan ministry of defense, and eventually to its ministry of justice. The transfer may help resolve an issue that has caused a fair amount of controversy for the U.S. military.”

“Back in 2002, two Bagram detainees died in a prisoner-abuse scandal,” he adds. “And last year, The New York Times reported the existence of a ‘black jail’ at Bagram that was kept off limits to the Red Cross. The military has maintained that there is no separate facility at Bagram: In a bloggers’ roundtable earlier this year, Navy Vice Adm. Robert Harward emphasized that there were ‘no black jails’ at Bagram, but he did clarify that there was a short period of detention at undisclosed ‘field-detention sites,’ where Afghan and U.S. authorities hold individuals to determine who they are and whether they have any actionable intelligence.”

According to a BBC report published in April, the US military operates a “secret jail” at an Afghan airbase where prisoners are deprived of sleep and “made to dance” by US troops whenever they want to use the toilet.

The BBC interviewed nine people who say they were held at the facility, known as the “black hole,” at the site of the Bagram air base. The prison appears to be separate from the main Bagram prison, which the US established after the 2001 invasion and which continues to be the target of human rights complaints.

A man identified only as “Mirwais” who says he spent 24 days at the facility told the BBC that prisoners are routinely subjected to sleep deprivation.

“I could not sleep, nobody could sleep because there was a machine that was making noise,” said Mirwais. “There was a small camera in my cell, and if you were sleeping they’d come in and disturb you.”

“Mirwais said he was made to dance to music by American soldiers every time he wanted to use the toilet,” the BBC reports.

Witnesses said the lights were kept on in their cells at all times; that the Red Cross had no access to the facility; and most had been beaten by US troops before they were brought there. The BBC report does not address under what circumstances the witnesses found themselves there, or whether any of them were insurgents.

With earlier reporting by Daniel Tencer.

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