Handoff of Detention Facility in Parwan Marred: Afghan Government Places Higher Value on Rule of Law Than US

Following on the heels of the initial agreement that was virtually meaningless from the start, because the US still retained veto power of many of Afghanistan’s moves, the US today allowed Afghanistan to hold a “splendid” ceremony marking the “complete” handoff of prison control to Afghanistan. As might be expected, the handoff is not complete, and the US is still insisting it retains many powers the Afghans dispute.

Khaama provides a summary of the ceremony:

U.S. officials handed over formal control of Afghanistan’s only large-scale U.S.-run prison to Kabul on Monday, even as disagreements between the two countries over the Taliban and terror suspects held there marred the transfer.

Control of the jail has been hailed by Kabul as a victory for sovereignty, but analysts said it was largely a symbolic measure, as Nato prepares to leave Afghanistan after more than a decade fighting an insurgency.


“I’m happy that today we are witnessing a glorious ceremony that marks the handing over of responsibilities of Afghan prisoners to Afghans themselves,” acting defence minister Enayatullah Nazari said.

Multiple reports point to the establisment of an Afghan system for prolonged detention of prisoners without charges as the primary area of disagreement. The New York Times provides the transcription of the US government’s position on the dispute:

The coalition would not say what its concerns were, but some Afghan officials have raised objections to the system of no-trial detention that the United States insisted the Afghan government embrace at Parwan. This system allows the continued imprisonment of wartime prisoners deemed too difficult to prosecute but too dangerous to release.

The Times provides no basis for how we are to understand that these detainees are both “too difficult to prosecute” and “too dangerous to release”. How are we to understand the danger these prisoners pose if the evidence against them is not tested in a court?

The Washington Post dances around the edges of this issue, suggesting that the US position is governed by classified evidence, but that this practice has drawn “international criticism”:

 The United States has held suspected militants for years on the basis of classified, undisclosed evidence, drawing international criticism.

Writing in Foreign Policy, Chris Rogers summarizes the situation in more detail, drawing on a report from Open Society Foundations (funded by George Soros), for which he is an attorney:

This partial handover has come at a high cost for Afghanistan: the creation of a new internment regime that will allow the Afghan authorities to detain without trial. A number of Afghan officials have called this new regime unconstitutional and fear it will be subject to abuse.

The creation of an Afghan internment regime appears to have been introduced largely at the behest of the United States, in order to facilitate the handover of U.S. held detainees, and satisfy the U.S. desire for a lasting internment system on the Afghan side into which it could continue to transfer future captures. The system, created last March, closely resembles the U.S. system at Bagram. It was not introduced through legislation or even consultation with Parliament-instead it was created last March through a secret “inter-ministerial agreement” and unpublished presidential decree that are vaguely worded and ripe for abuse.

There is a danger that this will be the real legacy of Bagram–the creation of a flawed system of detention without trial in a country already wracked with decades of internal conflict, impunity, and weak rule of law. The Open Society Foundations learned that U.S.-Afghan disagreements over these issues led to a temporary suspension of detainee transfers from U.S. to Afghan control, which was resolved only days before the handover deadline.

So there we have it. Some officials in Afghanistan are resisting the creation of a system for indefinite internment without trial because it is unconstitutional. That doesn’t bother the US a bit, as we have had our program of indefinite detention for over ten years now. And it appears that the US is forcing the Afghans to bypass their normal government processes to put the system in place there.

What could possibly go wrong?

And what does it say about the status of the rule of law in the US that the two major newspapers of record fail to point out that indefinite detention without trial is illegal? The Times merely tells us to accept the fact that some prisoners are too dangerous to release. The Post at least goes so far as to tell us that this practice generates international criticism, but it fails to tell us that this criticism is based on international law and ratified treaties that have the force of law. Maybe those Afghan officials can visit the US and inform our government about those pesky laws that are meant to prevent detention without trial.

The US is truly trying to remake Afghanistan in its own image. Both already have “internal conflict, impunity and weak rule of law”. With the imposition of indefinite detention in Afghanistan, one more US flaw will have been transferred.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
5 replies
  1. What Constitution says:

    I’m pretty sure this must have been what GW Bush was talking about when he urged us into Afghanistan to “spread freedom and democracy”. Those Afghanis just don’t get it, huh?

  2. chetnolian says:

    The US seem to have got it wrong. They thought they could treat Afghanistan just like the UK, but they probably don’t “co-operate” on intelligence enough with the Afghans to pull the same levers.

  3. Gimme Shelter says:

    Previously rejected report is now key to US effort to curb insider killings in Afghanistan

    More than a year and a half ago, Dr. Jeffrey Bordin warned of the growing threat of Afghan troops turning their weapons on their Western counterparts — spurred largely by cultural misunderstandings and anger — and laid out a road map for improving relations in a report commissioned by the US military.

    His prescient analysis was quickly and publicly ridiculed by military officials, and Bordin was removed from his post as a research team leader.

    Eight months and 45 killings into 2012, the military is now listening, touting new programs to promote cultural understanding among Western troops and using Bordin’s report to come up with solutions to a crisis that is undermining the very foundations of the coalition effort to transition the country to Afghan control.

    But some are asking: What took so long?


  4. Garrett says:

    Today’s flurry of news stories about the status of Taliban Reconciliation is truly wild. It would take time to even try to figure out what has really happened behind the scenes.

    I think that yesterday’s Massoud day gathering of the power brokers and the warlords and the commanders was indeed an important event.

    Sayyef and Fahim were speaking from the same script: Let the various mujahideen loose on the Taliban.

    With now, today’s flurry of contradictory stories about Taliban talks and plans.

  5. Long Walk Home says:

    reports Afghan related

    Taliban says 9/11 attacks were excuse for ‘illegal’ war

    On the eve of the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban issued a bellicose statement accusing the United States of using the “September incident” as a pretext for an unjust war.

    After nearly 11 years of war, the movement declared that the “criminal warmongers” – the United States and its allies in the NATO force – were “fleeing the battleground, one after the other.”

    “America … is facing utter defeat in Afghanistan militarily, politically, economically and in all other facets, and it has exhausted all other means through which to prolong its illegal war,” it added.


    The watchdog for US spending in Afghanistan says lax accountability in a $1.1 Billion program supplying fuel to the Afghan National Army needs “immediate attention” before control of the program is turned over to the Kabul government in less than four months.

    There’s no proof the fuel is actually being used by Afghan security forces for their missions, meaning it’s not known how much fuel has been lost, stolen or diverted to the insurgency, according to a report released Monday by Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction John F. Sopko.

    The report is the latest bad news surrounding a key element of the US exit strategy for Afghanistan. Washington has spent billions of dollars on the international coalition’s effort to train and equip Afghan forces it hopes eventually will be able to fight the Taliban on their own. The new report comes on top of growing questions in recent weeks about how recruits are vetted for the Afghan forces — questions prompted by a spike in insider attacks in which Afghan soldiers, police or impersonators have killed 45 international service members this year, mostly Americans.


    Pakistan weary of hosting millions of Afghan refugees

    Afghans who fled the Soviet invasion and, later, Taliban rule will lose their refugee status in Pakistan at year’s end, making them vulnerable to deportation.


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