Report alleges abuse of Afghan detainees at secret US detention center
A report issued Thursday by a U.S. foundation details allegations of detainee abuse — some as recent as this year — from Afghans who say they were held at a secret detention center inside the main American military base in Afghanistan.
While the U.S. military has long operated a detention facility for those captured in Afghan operations — first inside Bagram Air Base and now right next door — some former detainees have said over the years that they were held at a smaller, more isolated detention center nicknamed the “Black Jail.”
The U.S. has said that it holds detainees at a number of field sites before they are transferred either to Afghan authorities or to the main detention center, but has never confirmed the existence of the Black Jail, rumored to be inside the Bagram base.
The report by New York-based Open Society Foundations, a grant-making and policy organization founded by liberal billionaire George Soros, lists a host of accusations of mistreatment at the alleged site. Former detainees said they were exposed to excessive cold and light, not given enough food or blankets, deprived of sleep, stripped naked for medical exams and kept from practicing their religion, among other complaints.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. military task force overseeing detention in Afghanistan denied the existence of any hidden jails and said that all detention facilities are held to the same strict standards of conduct.
“The Department of Defense does not operate any ‘secret prisons,'” said Capt. Pamela Kunze, noting that while the locations of some screening facilities are classified, both the Afghan government and the Red Cross are informed about the sites.
“Our field detention sites are all consistent with international and U.S. law and (Defense Department) policy, including Common Article III of the Geneva Conventions, the Detainee Treatment Act, the (Defense Department) Detainee Directive and the Army Field Manual,” she added.
If the allegations prove true, they could further tarnish the push for detention reform by President Barack Obama, who has been unable to deliver on a campaign promise to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
The effort to improve conditions and openness has so far seemed to show great progress in Afghanistan. Since Obama took office, those overseeing detention in Afghanistan have become much more open. Reporters have been allowed to tour the main detention facility outside Bagram, and sit in on the review boards used by U.S. authorities to determine if a detainee remains a threat. The majority of detainees are now also given access to Afghan lawyers and their case is heard in an Afghan court held at the center.
And so the latest allegations could be particularly damaging.
“Given the consistency of the accounts, the Open Society Foundations believes these are genuine areas of concern, and not outliers, that run counter to U.S. rules on detainee treatment,” the report states.
“We’re not talking about being threatened to death in interrogation with drills to their head, we’re talking about run-of-the-mill detention conditions that when seen as a whole create a very troubling pattern,” said Jonathan Horowitz, the report’s author.
The report is based on interviews of 18 detainees who say they were held at a facility matching the description of the alleged Black Jail. Half of those said they passed through the Black Jail in 2009 or 2010 — long after the military had responded to charges of abuse at its detention center at Bagram with extensive reforms.
Horowitz said he found during months of interviews with former Afghan detainees that those who said they were held at the alleged Black Jail described worse conditions than those at other facilities.
“It hasn’t benefited from the robust reforms that have been seen at other U.S. detention centers in Afghanistan,” Horowitz said.
Several of those interviewed said their cells were so cold that their teeth chattered and they couldn’t sleep, while bright lights shone 24 hours. The provided blankets weren’t enough to keep warm, they said.
“It was like sleeping in the fridge,” one of the former detainees told the researchers.
The Army’s Human Intelligence Collector Operations Field Manual says that detainees should not be exposed to “excessive or inadequate heat, light, or ventilation” or given “inadequate bedding or blankets.” It also prohibits deprivation of necessary food, orders that detainees must not be prevented from at least four hours of sleep every 24 hours and bans forced nudity.
Many of the interviewed detainees also said they were given food that smelled awful and that they were only able to eat the biscuits supplied with their meals.
They also said it was difficult to sleep because of the accumulation of light, cold and noise — some from apparently intentionally loud guards. In addition, they said they were forcibly stripped for medical exams.
“While detaining authorities have a legitimate and genuine need to conduct medical examinations of detainees upon entry into a facility, they must balance this with the fact that Muslims and Pashtuns in particular, are extremely sensitive about revealing the naked body,” the report states.
Detainees said that while they had access to Qurans and had wall paintings showing the direction of Mecca, they often had difficulty knowing when to pray because they didn’t know the time of day and did not have enough water to perform ritual washing before prayer.
Certain detainees also said the Red Cross was blocked from visiting them. The Red Cross has previously said that it has been notified since August 2009 of all people arrested in Afghanistan by international forces. A Kabul spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, said that questions on access were confidential.
“The question of access, while always a priority for the ICRC, is discussed directly with the authorities in question as part of the ICRC’s confidential dialogue on matters of detention, Bijan Frederic Farnoudi said.
The New York-based Open Society Foundations — which includes Soros’ Open Society Institute — backs initiatives worldwide ranging from democracy building and human rights to public health, education and media strengthening.
Source: AP News
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