AP offers details about prolonged confinement about detainees at classified detention sites in Afghanistan

The Associated Press reported yesterday on the existence of “classified detention sites” being run by the Joint Special Operations Command in Afghanistan, where detainees are held for “weeks” in secret for the purposes of interrogation. Daphne Eviatar, a senior associate at Human Rights First, recently interviewed several former detainees who had been held at these facilities. Eviatar said her monitoring group does not believe the JSOC facility is using the full range of Bush-era interrogation techniques, but she said there’s “a disturbing pattern of using fear and humiliation to soften up the suspects before interrogation”. Detainees are said to be “forced to strip naked, and kept in solitary confinement in windowless, often cold cells with lights on 24 hours a day.”

Despite the sensational headline this is essentially old news; the government has never never denied the existence of these temporary holding facilities where they hold detainees for up to 14 days before releasing them or transferring them to the Parwan Detention facility. And the treatment of the detainees is in accordance with the Army Field Manual, including its notorious ‘Appendix M’.

The ICRC has earlier said that since August 2009 they are being notified – as a matter of policy – of detained people in Afghanistan by the US authorities within 14 days of their arrest. The UN has commented upon this practice, saying that there is ‘no legal justification for this two-week period of secret detention.’ Under international law the US can only hold persons in unacknowledged detention for the purposes of interrogation for one week.

According to article 70 of the Third Geneva Convention, prisoners of war are to be documented, and their whereabouts and health conditions made available to family members and to the country of origin of the prisoner within one week. Article 106 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (governing the treatment of civilians) establishes virtually identical procedures for the documentation and disclosure of information concerning civilian detainees.

The AP article now suggests that detainees might be held in these temporary detention sites for a period of up to 9 weeks. It is unclear at what time these detainees have access to the ICRC.

After the first two weeks, the first extension is for three weeks, for reasons including “producing good tactical intel” to “too sick to move,” according to a U.S. official familiar with the procedure. The next possible extension is for an additional month, adding up to a total of roughly nine weeks in temporary detention before battlefield interrogators have to appeal to the executive, either the defense secretary or the president himself, for another extension. The military has never pushed for that for any detainee, according to a
former senior intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity
to discuss classified matters.

Testimony from Bagram’s black jail

As reported on the Afghanistan Analysts Network:

After our arrest we were first taken to Tor Jail, or the Black Jail. It was terrible. They didn’t treat us like humans at all. They didn’t allow us to sleep. There was nothing to cover ourselves with. They insulted the Quran. Whenever we were taken to the bathroom, they left the door open. We never knew when it was time to pray or which direction we should face. We never saw sunlight. We were treated rudely during interrogation. Some people were also beaten, but that didn’t happen to me.

After 33 days in the Black Jail I was transferred to the big jail. Here we were visited by ICRC, which was good even though they had no authority. They brought letters, but they didn’t tell the press about us or about the circumstances we were in. The Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) didn’t come to the prison, maybe they were not allowed in. About a month before my release they came, but they were so young. What could they do?

80 persons to be held indefinitely in new Parwan Detention facility near Bagram, Afghanistan

In 2010 the US-led coalition arrested 6,223 Afghans, the largest number on record said Vice Admiral Robert Harward, head of US detention operations in Afghanistan. About 5,000 were let go within days, often after tribal elders vowed to keep them out of trouble. About 1,200 — who had the most damning evidence against them — were sent to the new $60 million US Parwan detention facility. A quarter of them were released within months without a trial. At the Parwan detention facility 119 inmates have been detained for more than two years, about 80 of whom Harward said the United States intends to keep indefinitely because they are third-country nationals or Al Qaeda affiliates deemed a serious security threat outside Afghanistan.

300 detainees have been freed until now by the review boards. Meanwhile, nearly 300 others were referred for trial by Afghan courts, including a special onsite court where Afghan judges, prosecutors, and forensic experts are mentored by Americans.

Thirty-six such trials been held here since June and all but two ended in convictions. US officials hope these trials will largely replace the review board hearings next year. So far, 17 detainees who have left the facility have been rearrested, Harward said, and at least one has been killed by the Taliban.

At Pul-e-Charkhi, a prison outside Kabul that houses some 5,000 inmates, including about 1,400 suspected suicide bombers, Taliban fighters, and other “national security’’ threats, prison officials have no authority to release detainees, as the Americans do.

Rights group warns Australia detainee transfer program may violate international law

[JURIST] Australia’s new Afghan detainee transfer policy may violate international human rights laws, Amnesty International warned Tuesday. The new detainee management system, announced Tuesday by Australian Minister of Defence Stephen Smith, provides for the systematic transfer of “high risk” detainees to US forces and “low risk” detainees to Afghan forces. According to AI Asia-Pacific director Sam Zarifi, the new policy puts detainees at risk of torture and mistreatment at the hands of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), which has been previously linked to human rights abuses.

“By handing over detainees to the NDS, where they are at risk of torture or other ill-treatment, Australia could be in violation of its international obligations to protect individuals from such treatment,” Zarifi said. Until August of this year, any detainees apprehended by the Australian Defence Force (ADF) had been the responsibility of Dutch forces that, according to AI, had “safeguards” in place to assure detainees would not be mistreated.

Academics, experts appeal to Obama to back Taliban talks

A group of academics, journalists and NGO workers (including Ahmed Rashid, Nir Rosen, Joshua Faust, Anatol Lieven) have published an open letter to President Barack Obama appealing to him to support direct negotiations with the Taliban leadership.

The Taliban’s leadership has indicated its willingness to negotiate, and it is in our interests to talk to them. In fact, the Taliban are primarily concerned about the future of Afghanistan and not – contrary to what some may think — a broader global Islamic jihad. Their links with Al-Qaeda – which is not, in any case, in Afghanistan any more — are weak. We need to at least try to seriously explore the possibility of a political settlement in which the Taliban are part of the Afghan political system.”

US army amasses biometric data in Afghanistan

The Guardian reports that the US army now has information on 800,000 people, while another database
developed by the country’s interior ministry has records on 250,000

It is the sort of operation that would horrify civil liberties campaigners in the west, but there has been little public debate in Afghanistan. Kitted out with handheld devices that contain a camera to scan eyes and an electronic pad to take fingerprints, US soldiers have been collecting huge amounts of biometric data, with little oversight from the Afghan government.

The US hopes that Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, can be persuaded to set up a much more ambitious national biometric ID system that would hold information on every Afghan citizen from the age of 16.

Although such a move would potentially be bad news for people’s privacy, it would unquestionably make life harder for insurgents.

“It allows us to understand population shifts and movements, who wasn’t there before and who might be a potential threat just because they are new to that area,” said Craig Osborne, the colonel in charge of Task Force Biometrics.

Already the technology, which was originally introduced in US bases in the Balkans in the early 2000s, is helping to catch dozens of wanted suspects a week. Information collected in the field is checked against a central database containing hundreds of thousands of fingerprints found by US army forensics labs on materials touched by insurgents: weapons, sticky tape from homemade bombs, and even receipts for wire transfers of money used to pay for the rebel cause.

Hundreds of suspects have been identified and detained through such methods, according to data released by the US military last month.

The biometric survey is seen as an essential tool for implementing one of the key principles of counterinsurgency theory: that the population needs to be separated from insurgents.

Federal court rules government not required to disclose Bagram detainee information

[JURIST] The US District Court for the Southern District of New York denied a request Monday for documents regarding the detention and treatment of prisoners being held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Judge Barbara Jones granted summary judgment for the government, denying the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) access to the documents under the Freedom of Information Act  (FOIA). The ACLU had sought documents with information on “detainees’ citizenships, dates of capture, length of detention at Bagram, locations of capture and circumstances of capture.” The court held that the government is not required to confirm the existence nor nonexistence of such documents because of the potential harm to national security. ACLU staff attorney Melissa Goodman criticized the decision:

The public has a right to know how long the U.S. has kept people locked up in military detention and under what circumstances. The lack of transparency about these key facts is even more disturbing considering the possibility that the U.S. will continue holding and interrogating prisoners at Bagram well into the future. Unfortunately, today’s ruling will allow the government to continue hiding this vital information.

Pakistani judge asks government clarification on rendition of Pakistani citizens to Bagram

Lahore High Court Chief Justice Khawaja Muhammad Sharif has sought in the beginning of October a reply from the ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs on a petition against the abduction and extradition to foreign countries of seven Pakistani citizens now detained at the Bagram Theatre Internment Camp in Afghanistan.

Sharif directed the lawyer representing the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), present in the courtroom, to get a report and comments from both the ministries by October 19. The seven Pakistanis include Awal Khan, Fazal Karim, Iftikhar Ahmad, Hamidullah Khan, Abdul Haleem, Saifullah Younas and Rehmatullah. No news about the Pakistan reply has been received yet.

Sultana Noon, a member of ‘Reprieve’, a (UK based organisation dedicated to ensuring enforcement of human rights of prisoners), moved the petition for the recovery of the detainees. The petitioners’ counsel Salman Akram Raja submitted that the Pakistani citizens, held in different jails of Pakistan from where they were abducted were handed over to foreign countries without any reason.

Raja alleged that Pakistani authorities played a role in the abduction and extradition of the citizens to foreign countries. He said that an ordinary citizen suspected of being involved in any purported wrongdoing deserved a chance to prove his innocence rather than being handed over to foreign powers. He asked the court to directthe two ministries to make a representation as required by law on behalf of the abducted citizens and arrange for their release and extradition to the country. Raja also requested the court to register criminal cases against those involved in the abduction of the citizens.

Are the U.S. Detainee Review Boards for suspected Afghan insurgents fair?

Rachel Reid observed the US Detainee Review Boards in Afghanistan and wrote down her experiences in the LA Times here.

The Pentagon recently has tried hard to improve its detention policy in Afghanistan. It should take two more achievable steps. The first is to give detainees access to legal counsel, an internationally recognized right. The second is to decrease classification levels.

UN panel calls for more oversight of contractors

A U.N. panel has called for greater oversight and regulation of private military contractors working in war zones such as Afghanistan.

The U.N. working group on the use of mercenaries says there is a lack of effective vetting procedures with some companies employing individuals who may have been involved in human rights abuses.

The panel wants the U.S. government and others who use such groups to establish “a strong system of regulation and oversight of private military and security companies.”

Panel chairman Alexander Nikitin said in a statement Tuesday that voluntary codes of conduct for private contractors are not sufficient.

Nikitin says efforts at self-regulation in the past ten years have failed to establish effective accountability.