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New Prison in Afghanistan

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    U.S. Planning Big New Prison in Afghanistan By ERIC SCHMITT and TIM GOLDEN http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/17/world/asia/17detain.html? _r=1&hp&oref=slogin
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 12, 2008
      U.S. Planning Big New Prison in Afghanistan
      By ERIC SCHMITT and TIM GOLDEN
      http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/17/world/asia/17detain.html?
      _r=1&hp&oref=slogin


      WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is moving forward with plans to build a
      new, 40-acre detention complex on the main American military base in
      Afghanistan, officials said, in a stark acknowledgment that the
      United States is likely to continue to hold prisoners overseas for
      years to come.

      The proposed detention center would replace the cavernous, makeshift
      American prison on the Bagram military base north of Kabul, which is
      now typically packed with about 630 prisoners, compared with the 270
      held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

      Until now, the Bush administration had signaled that it intended to
      scale back American involvement in detention operations in
      Afghanistan. It had planned to transfer a large majority of the
      prisoners to Afghan custody, in an American-financed, high-security
      prison outside Kabul to be guarded by Afghan soldiers.

      But American officials now concede that the new Afghan-run prison
      cannot absorb all the Afghans now detained by the United States, much
      less the waves of new prisoners from the escalating fight against Al
      Qaeda and the Taliban.

      The proposal for a new American prison at Bagram underscores the
      daunting scope and persistence of the United States military's
      detention problem, at a time when Bush administration officials
      continue to say they want to close down the facility at Guantánamo
      Bay.

      Military officials have long been aware of serious problems with the
      existing detention center in Afghanistan, the Bagram Theater
      Internment Facility. After the prison was set up in early 2002, it
      became a primary site for screening prisoners captured in the
      fighting. Harsh interrogation methods and sleep deprivation were used
      widely, and two Afghan detainees died there in December 2002, after
      being repeatedly struck by American soldiers.

      Conditions and treatment have improved markedly since then, but
      hundreds of Afghans and other men are still held in wire-mesh pens
      surrounded by coils of razor wire. There are only minimal areas for
      the prisoners to exercise, and kitchen, shower and bathroom space is
      also inadequate.

      Faced with that, American officials said they wanted to replace the
      Bagram prison, a converted aircraft hangar that still holds some of
      the decrepit aircraft-repair machinery left by the Soviet troops who
      occupied the country in the 1980s. In its place the United States
      will build what officials described as a more modern and humane
      detention center that would usually accommodate about 600 detainees —
      or as many as 1,100 in a surge — and cost more than $60 million.'

      "Our existing theater internment facility is deteriorating," said
      Sandra L. Hodgkinson, the senior Pentagon official for detention
      policy, in a telephone interview. "It was renovated to do a temporary
      mission. There is a sense that this is the right time to build a new
      facility."

      American officials also acknowledged that there are serious health
      risks to detainees and American military personnel who work at the
      Bagram prison, because of their exposure to heavy metals from the
      aircraft-repair machinery and asbestos.

      "It's just not suitable," another Pentagon official said. "At some
      point, you have to say, `That's it. This place was not made to keep
      people there indefinitely.' "

      That point came about six months ago. It became clear to Pentagon
      officials that the original plan of releasing some Afghan prisoners
      outright and transferring other detainees to Afghan custody would not
      come close to emptying the existing detention center.

      Although a special Afghan court has been established to prosecute
      detainees formerly held at Bagram and Guantánamo, American officials
      have been hesitant to turn over those prisoners they consider most
      dangerous. In late February the head of detainee operations in Iraq,
      Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, traveled to Bagram to assess conditions
      there.

      In Iraq, General Stone has encouraged prison officials to build ties
      to tribal leaders, families and communities, said a Congressional
      official who has been briefed on the general's work. As a result,
      American officials are giving Iraqi detainees job training and
      engaging them in religious discussions to help prepare them to re-
      enter Iraqi society.

      About 8,000 detainees have been released in Iraq since last
      September. Fewer than 1 percent of them have been returned to the
      prison, said Lt. Cmdr. K. C. Marshall, General Stone's spokesman.
      The new detention center at Bagram will incorporate some of the
      lessons learned by the United States in Iraq. Classrooms will be
      built for vocational training and religious discussion, and there
      will be more space for recreation and family visits, officials said.
      After years of entreaties by the International Committee of the Red
      Cross, the United States recently began to allow relatives to speak
      with prisoners at Bagram through video hookups.

      "The driving factor behind this is to ensure that in all instances we
      are giving the highest standards of treatment and care," said Ms.
      Hodgkinson, who has briefed Senate and House officials on the
      construction plans.

      The Pentagon is planning to use $60 million in emergency construction
      funds this fiscal year to build a complex of 6 to 10 semi-permanent
      structures resembling Quonset huts, each the size of a football
      field, a Defense Department official said. The structures will have
      more natural light, and each will have its own recreation area. There
      will be a half-dozen other buildings for administration, medical care
      and other purposes, the official said.

      The new Bagram compound is expected to be built away from the
      existing center of operations on the base, on the other side of a
      long airfield from the headquarters building that now sits almost
      directly adjacent to the detention center, one military official said.
      It will have its own perimeter security wall, and its own perimeter
      security guards, a change that will increase the number of soldiers
      required to operate the detention center.

      The military plans to request $24 million in fiscal year 2009 and
      $7.4 million in fiscal year 2010 to pay for educational programs, job
      training and other parts of what American officials call a
      reintegration plan. After that, the Pentagon plans to pay about $7
      million a year in training and operational costs.

      There has been mixed support for the project on Capitol Hill. Two
      prominent Senate Democrats, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Tim
      Johnson of South Dakota, have been briefed on the new American-run
      prison, and have praised the decision to make conditions there more
      humane.

      But the senators, in a May 15 letter to the deputy defense secretary,
      Gordon England, demanded that the Pentagon explain its long-term
      plans for detention in Afghanistan and consult the Afghan government
      on the project.

      The population at Bagram began to swell after administration
      officials halted the flow of prisoners to Guantánamo in September
      2004, a cutoff that largely remains in effect. At the same time, the
      population of detainees at Bagram also began to rise with the
      resurgence of the Taliban.

      Military personnel who know both Bagram and Guantánamo describe the
      Afghan site, 40 miles north of Kabul, as far more spartan. Bagram
      prisoners have fewer privileges, less ability to contest their
      detention and no access to lawyers.

      Some detainees have been held without charge for more than five
      years, officials said. As of April, about 10 juveniles were being
      held at Bagram, according to a recent American report to a United
      Nations committee.

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