While an international debate rages over the future of the American detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the military has quietly expanded another, less-visible prison in Afghanistan, where it now holds some 500 terror suspects in more primitive conditions, indefinitely and without charges.But that was in another country, and besides, the wench is dead:
But some of the detainees have already been held at Bagram for as long as two or three years. And unlike those at Guantánamo, they have no access to lawyers, no right to hear the allegations against them and only rudimentary reviews of their status as "enemy combatants," military officials said.
"Guantánamo was a lightning rod," said a former senior administration official who participated in the discussions and who, like many of those interviewed, would discuss the matter in detail only on the condition of anonymity because of the secrecy surrounding it. "For some reason, people did not have a problem with Bagram. It was in Afghanistan."I will show you fear in a handful of dust:
Other military and administration officials said the growing detainee population at Bagram, which rose from about 100 prisoners at the start of 2004 to as many as 600 at times last year, according to military figures, was in part a result of a Bush administration decision to shut off the flow of detainees into Guantánamo after the Supreme Court ruled that those prisoners had some basic due-process rights.....April is the cruelest month
But according to interviews with current and former administration officials, the National Security Council effectively halted the movement of new detainees into Guantánamo at a cabinet-level meeting at the White House on Sept. 14, 2004.
Wary of further angering Guantánamo's critics, the council authorized a final shipment of 10 detainees eight days later from Bagram, the officials said. But it also indicated that it wanted to review and approve any Defense Department proposals for further transfers. Despite repeated requests from military officials in Afghanistan and one formal recommendation by a Pentagon working group, no such proposals have been considered, officials said.
Officials said most of the current Bagram detainees were captured during American military operations in Afghanistan, primarily in the country's restive south, beginning in the spring of 2004.Unreal City
"We ran a couple of large-scale operations in the spring of 2004, during which we captured a large number of enemy combatants," said Maj. Gen. Eric T. Olson, who was the ground commander for American troops in Afghanistan at the time. In subsequent remarks he added, "Our system for releasing detainees whose intelligence value turned out to be negligible did not keep pace with the numbers we were bringing in."
"It was like a cage," said one former detainee, Hajji Lalai Mama, a 60-year-old tribal elder from the Spinbaldak district of southern Afghanistan who was released last June after nearly two years. Referring to a zoo in Pakistan, he added, "Like the cages in Karachi where they put animals: it was like that."And when I asked the Sybill "What do you want," she replied "I want to die."
Guantánamo, which once kept detainees in wire-mesh cages, now houses them in an elaborate complex of concrete and steel buildings with a hospital, recreation yards and isolation areas. At Bagram, detainees are stripped on arrival and given orange uniforms to wear. They wash in collective showers and live under bright indoor lighting that is dimmed for only a few hours at night.
"It was like a cage," said one former detainee, Hajji Lalai Mama, a 60-year-old tribal elder from the Spinbaldak district of southern Afghanistan who was released last June after nearly two years. Referring to a zoo in Pakistan, he added, "Like the cages in Karachi where they put animals: it was like that."Falling towers
Abdul Nabi, a 24-year-old mechanic released on Dec. 15 after nine months, said some detainees frequently protested the conditions, banging on their cages and sometimes refusing to eat. He added that infractions of the rules were dealt with unsparingly: hours handcuffed in a smaller cell for minor offenses, and days in isolation for repeated transgressions.
"We were not allowed to talk very much," he said in an interview.
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An official of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, Shamsullah Ahmadzai, noted that the Afghan police, prosecutors and the courts were all limited by law in how long they could hold criminal suspects.
"The Americans are detaining people without any legal procedures," Mr. Ahmadzai said in an interview in Kabul. "Prisoners do not have the opportunity to demonstrate their innocence."
"Out of sight, out of mind," one of those officials said of the Bagram detainees.