Friday, September 07, 2012

U.S. to Retain Role as a Jailer in Afghanistan

So much for Obama's promise to leave Afghanistan, it has always been and continues to be a filthy lie

New York Times
By Charlie Savage and Graham Bowley


The United States military will maintain control over dozens of foreign detainees in Afghanistan for the indefinite future, even as the two countries prepare to ceremonially mark the hand-over of detention operations to the Afghan government, officials from both countries say.

Afghan prisoners in Parwan near Bagram AFB
Further, although thousands of Afghan detainees have already been turned over, the United States will continue to hold and screen newly captured Afghans for a time, ensuring continued American involvement in detention and interrogation activities.

The hand-over deal, signed on March 9 at President Hamid Karzai’s demand, set a six-month transfer schedule and was a reflection of rising Afghan assertions of sovereignty at a time of extreme tensions over American troops’ burning of Korans.

The persistence of American-operated prison buildings, in a section of the main Parwan complex at Bagram Air Base, underscores the complexity of relinquishing control over detainee operations while American troops are still in the field conducting raids and making arrests — including the risk that detainees could be freed only to come back and stage attacks.

Some of the difficulties raised by the non-Afghan detainees, moreover, echo problems that have slowed the Obama administration’s efforts to close the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It is illegal to repatriate prisoners to countries where they are likely to be tortured or killed, for example, and American officials have also wanted to ensure that other governments are willing and able to keep tabs on any released detainees.

US soldiers stand guard beside prison cells during a media tour of Bagram prison, north of Kabul, on November 15, 2009. A human rights group is calling on the United States to develop a new detention policy with Kabul for a US military prison in Afghanistan dubbed the "Afghan Guantanamo." The detention center located at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul holds some 600 detainees captured by US forces in Afghanistan. (Massoud Hossaini/Getty Images)

Still, Afghan guards now operate most of the cellblocks at Parwan, and they have taken custody of most of the roughly 3,000 Afghans who were already being held as suspects in the insurgency when the allies signed the transfer agreement. There are many fewer inmates — about 50, officials say — from Pakistan and other countries, while more than 600 Afghans have been taken into custody since the March 9 deal. A major unresolved issue is how quickly newly arrested Afghans should be turned over.

William K. Lietzau, the Pentagon’s top detainee policy official, said in a recent interview that the United States was “on a trajectory to be able to comply” with the Sept. 9 “milestone” in the transfer agreement — he rejected the word deadline. Compliance, he said, meant having transferred all Afghan citizens who were already in custody when the agreement was signed.

So far, Mr. Karzai, who early this year demanded the immediate transfer of prison operations, has not publicly objected to that narrow interpretation of the agreement. He has announced plans for a ceremony on Monday to mark the “full transfer” of the detention center.

In this March 23, 2011 photograph, a U.S. Army medic hands medicine to Afghan detainees inside the Parwan detention facility near Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. “Black sites,” the secret network of jails that grew up after the Sept. 11 attacks, are gone. But suspected terrorists are still being held under hazy circumstances with uncertain rights in secret, military-run jails across Afghanistan, where they can be interrogated for weeks without charge, according to U.S. officials who revealed details of the top-secret network to The Associated Press. The Pentagon has previously denied operating secret jails in Afghanistan, although human rights groups and former detainees have described the facilities. U.S. military and other government officials confirmed that the detention centers exist but described them as temporary holding pens whose primary purpose is to gather intelligence

Some Afghan officials signaled that the continuing American role was understood and, to a degree, acceptable. “The priority for Afghanistan is Afghan citizens,” said Janan Mosazai, the Foreign Ministry spokesman. “When it comes to third-country nationals, that will be a matter we decide with our international partners at some point down the road.”

In an interview last week, the Afghan official who runs the Afghan-controlled portions of Parwan, Gen. Ghulam Farouk, acknowledged that the Afghan guards were still “in the process of building our capacity.” Three American officials sat in on the interview at his office at Parwan, while in a dusty yard outside his window, a graduation ceremony for about 100 guards unfolded. Behind them, a bus delivered detainees’ families for visits.

While General Farouk said the process of transferring the initial group of Afghan detainees was almost complete, because of delicate relations with a “neighboring country” — a reference to Pakistan — he said it would be best if the United States kept the foreign detainees for now.

The main U.S. run prison is the Parwan hellhole next to Bagram AFB outside Kabul, where riots broke out over the burning of Korans
“If we keep these people with us in this current situation and deal with them, this will create more problems for us,” he said. “Therefore it is better for the Americans to keep them.”

When transferred, prisoners leave their cells in one of the remaining American-controlled buildings and are taken to new cells in a building controlled by Afghans, but where American personnel will still be present in an advisory role until at least March, under the agreement. An Afghan committee sorts the detainees into two groups: so far, General Farouk said, 1,638 have been approved for criminal prosecution, and 963 have been referred to a review board, which evaluates them and recommends whether to keep holding them without trial as wartime detainees.

While the Bales case magically dropped off the radar...
The agreement calls on Afghanistan to consult the United States and “consider favorably” its assessment of whether a detainee poses a continuing security threat or should be released, but it is ambiguous about which country has final say. As a practical matter, the United States military still controls the perimeter of the base around the prison complex. To date, officials of both countries say, there have been no disagreements between General Farouk and his American counterpart, Lt. Gen. Keith M. Huber.

There are early signs, however, that the Afghans may be more inclined to release detainees than not. General Farouk said that so far the review board had finished evaluating about 600 men and recommended that he release 374. None have yet been freed, and he was vague about how many might be, but suggested it could be a majority.

A major task for American officials has been to declassify as much evidence as possible showing that each detainee may be an insurgent. The dossiers, given to the Afghans when each detainee is transferred, can be used by the Afghan court or its review boards.

To protect intelligence sources, the United States has sometimes withheld information or allowed Afghan officials only to view documents but not take copies. Mr. Lietzau of the Pentagon said that if the United States objected to an Afghan recommendation to release a detainee, the Americans would re-examine the full, still-classified file to see whether there was a way to show the review board more information.

..."Diplomats" at the U.S. Embassy Afghanistan were told to cut down on their boozing

“The bottom line is, we’re not in a war by ourselves against an enemy that is just our enemy,” he said. “We’re in a war where the only way to win is with our alliance.”

Domestic politics are a factor as well. Congress has imposed steep restrictions on transfers from Guantánamo, and the military does not want its hands to be similarly tied in Afghanistan. Republican lawmakers have criticized a decision to turn over to Iraqi custody a detainee accused of helping to kill American troops in the Iraq war. After a report that Iraq may soon release him, they warned the administration “to extend all efforts to ensure that this tragic mistake is not repeated with terrorists currently in U.S. custody in Afghanistan.”

And American military personnel continue to arrive home in the U.S. in cheap metal caskets - that is the ones that don't wind up in garbage dumps, U.S. military mortuary officials have been under fire for what the Air Force termed “gross mismanagement” for losing the body parts of two service members in 2009, repeated failures of command, doing little to change sloppy practices and sawing off the protruding arm bone of a dead Marine without informing his family

But any sweeping declarations by the United States that it will not allow the release of anyone it deems too risky would undermine Mr. Karzai’s ability to show that Afghans now exercise sovereign control over prisons on their soil. The Obama administration also does not want to provoke American courts into revisiting a 2010 ruling declining to extend the same habeas corpus rights that Guantánamo detainees have to detainees in Afghanistan.

The prisoner transfer policy could also face legal and political pressures inside Afghanistan. The United States insisted, when negotiating the agreement, that the Karzai administration embrace a system of no-trial detention for wartime prisoners deemed too difficult to prosecute but too dangerous to release. Afghan lawmakers, however, did not ratify the agreement.

Gul Rahman Qazi, the chairman of the independent commission for overseeing the carrying out of the Afghan Constitution, which he helped write, contended that a no-trial detention system “is not acceptable to us” and is “in confrontation with the national Constitution.”

But the Afghan government maintains that such detention is legal. And Mr. Lietzau said that while the war continues, it is lawful and necessary to detain people without trial, both to gain intelligence and to avoid creating any incentive for troops in combat to elect killing over capturing.

“An administrative detention regime is necessary for any morally responsible country in an armed conflict,” he said. “In this case, it was a prerequisite for our agreement with the Afghan government, at least the way combat operations are going right now. That’s something we’re going to have to be watching very carefully as we go forward with this transition.”

Charlie Savage reported from Washington, and Graham Bowley from Bagram, Afghanistan.

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