Earlier this week, the International Red Cross confirmed the existence of a secret “Black Jail” within the Bagram prison complex in Afghanistan, where high-value detainees were held and allegedly abused. Since then, additional details have continued to emerge.
The New York Times reported last November that former prisoners and human rights researchers had described how prisoners were held at the facility for weeks at a time without being allowed outside contact. The BBC also obtained accounts from prisoners who said they had been subjected to isolation, sleep deprivation, and cold.
The American vice admiral in charge of detainees, however, continued to deny both the existence of a separate facility and the allegations of abuse until the International Red Cross confirmed the claims.
Now The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder has been able to paint a clearer picture of the facility. His sources tell him that it is run by the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center (DCHC), whose operatives perform the interrogations on behalf of a subunit of the”elite counter-terrorism brigade” known as Task Force 714.
Task Force 714 was formerly commanded by General Stanley McChrystal, who now leads US forces in Afghanistan. According to Ambinder, DCHC is a “relatively new organization,” which absorbed many of the previous functions and staff of the Counterintelligence Field Activity after CIFA was accused of spying on American political groups and was implicated in the Duke Cunningham scandal.
“It is a way-point for detainees who are thought to possess actionable information about the Taliban or Al Qaeda,” Ambinder writes of the Black Jail. “Intelligence gleaned from these interrogations has often led to some of the military’s highest profile captures.”
Ambinder notes that, “personnel at the facility are supposed to follow the Army Field Manual’s guidelines for interrogations … [but] under secret authorization, the DIA interrogators use methods detailed in an appendix to the Field Manual, Appendix M, which spells out ‘restricted’ interrogation techniques.’” Although President Obama signed an order last year to eliminate the CIA’s “black sites,” it did not affect military prisons like the one at Bagram.
A DIA spokesperson was unwilling to comment on the story, and the White House referred Ambinder’s questions to the Pentagon. Pentagon spokesperson Bryan Whitman did confirm the existence of “temporary screening detention facilities,” but he refused to provide any details on them, although insisting that the Red Cross had knowledge of their existence.
Whitman also denied that “the agency’s inspector general had launched an internal investigation into reports in the Washington Post that several teenagers were beaten by the interrogators.”
Whitman has repeatedly been charged with misrepresentations while serving as Pentagon spokesperson. In 2008, journalist Gareth Porter identified him as the source of a “spurious account” of an encounter between Iranian ships and a US Navy vessel. In August 2009, he was caught denying a well-documented Stars & Stripes story about the military using a private PR firm to vet embedded reporters. And last fall, Raw Story published a multi-part series by investigative reporter Brad Jacobson which revealed Whitman’s role in the Bush administration’s “Pentagon propagandist” program and explored his ability to maintain his position under the Obama administration.