KABUL -- Two Afghan teenagers held in U.S. detention north of Kabul this year said they were beaten by American guards, photographed naked, deprived of sleep and held in solitary confinement in concrete cells for at least two weeks while undergoing daily interrogation about their alleged links to the Taliban....New York Times, November 28, 2009, Alissa J. Rubin
The holding center described by the teenagers appeared to have been a facility run by U.S. Special Operations forces that is separate from the Bagram Theater Internment Facility, the main American-run prison, which holds about 700 detainees. The teenagers' descriptions of a holding area on a different part of the Bagram base are consistent with the accounts of two other former detainees, who say they endured similar mistreatment, but not beatings, while being held last year at what Afghans call Bagram's "black" prison.
Kabul, Afghanistan - An American military detention camp in Afghanistan is still holding inmates for sometimes weeks at a time and without access to the International Committee of the Red Cross, according to human rights researchers and former detainees held at the site on the Bagram Air Base.The stories from former prisoners, including teenagers, independently describe conditions that include solitary confinement and isolation, sleep deprivations, beatings, sexual humiliation, demands for confession, lack of access to the International Red Cross, sensory deprivation (via hooding and earmuffs), and exposure to intense cold.
The site consists of individual windowless concrete cells, each lighted by a single light bulb glowing 24 hours a day, where detainees said that their only contact with another human being was at twice-daily interrogation sessions.
The jail’s operation highlights a tension between President Obama’s goal to improve detention conditions that had drawn condemnation under the Bush administration and his desire to give military commanders leeway to operate. In this case, that means isolating certain prisoners for a period of time so interrogators can extract information or flush out confederates.
According to the Post report, earlier this month Colonel John Garrity, described as a commander at the Bagram main facility (not the black Special Ops prison) denied there was any abuse of prisoners at Bagram. The NYT story says Pentagon and White House officials declined comment on the current story, because the Bagram black site is "classified."
A number of bloggers have found it odd that the Bagram story broke in two of the nations papers on the same day. Marcy Wheeler notes that "this story came out just weeks after the Center for American Progress’ Ken Gude floated sending military detainees from Gitmo to Bagram," and not long after the resignation of Obama's special assistant on detainee affairs, Phillip Carter. The black site at Bagram has been, according to Wheeler (quoted by Spencer Ackerman), "long-known".
Daphne Eviatar had big article on Bagram in The American Lawyer last November, and cited a habeas petition from a Bagram prisoner which alleges that prisoners "are regularly tortured and abused, including being starved, severely beaten, forced into painful, contorted body positions, 'waterboarded,' exposed to extremely cold temperatures, and sexually humiliated." (See GRITtv's show "Bagram's Black Hole", first broadcast about ten months ago.) Of course, the current articles by the nation's two premier newspapers cite abuse occurring even under the auspices of the Obama administration.
The Status of Torture in Obama's America
The biggest news, not noted in either story, may be the degree to which much of the U.S. population, and in particular liberals who backed the successful presidential campaign of Barack Obama, who became the first African-American chief executive in U.S. history, have been in denial over the poor record of President Obama on the issue of torture and detention policies. The President began with a big series of presidential orders that supposedly ended the Bush administration's policy of torturing prisoners, and shut down the CIA's black site prisons.
But as we know now, not all the black site prisons were shut down. Nor was the torture ended. Whether its beatings and forced-feedings at Guantanamo, or the kinds of torture described at Bagram, it's obvious that torture has not been rooted out of U.S. military-intelligence operations. In fact, by way of the Obama administration's recent approval of the Bush-era Army Field Manual on interrogations, with its infamous Appendix M, which allows for much of the kind of torture practiced at Bagram, the White House has institutionalized a level of torture that was introduced by the previous administration, but which has been studied and devised over the last fifty or sixty years.
Furthermore, in a June 2009 Air Force document I uniquely reported on last July, I noted that the personnel responsible for some of the torture program deriving from the SERE schools were still allowed "psychological oversight of battlefield interrogation and detention". Are SERE psychologists involved in the Special Operations black site torture at Bagram? Given the close relationship between SERE's parent group, the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, I think there's a high possibility of just such involvement.
The state of denial that American liberals and progressives find themselves in over the Obama administration's policies on interrogation and detention are amplified by internal disagreements over Obama's planned escalation of the war in Afghanistan. I believe the Bagram stories release this weekend is related, in part, to the administration's announcement of such escalation later this week. It's as if someone were saying, get used to more stories like this, because the dogs of war are being even further granted their release, and if you don't like what you're hearing, get ready. Special Ops (and General McChrystal, supreme commander in Afghanistan is a Special Operations commander) is in charge now, and these guys don't brook any opposition, and consider themselves a law unto themselves.
Domestically, what will finally happen is a split -- long needed, I'd add -- between the pro-military and anti-militarist wings of the progressive movement over the Afghanistan war, and related issues, such as the persistence of torture and prisoner abuse. For the moment, though, the question is how long will denial exist among liberals and progressives over the persistence of an aggressive military policy and the concomitant crimes against humanity that come with it?