It is a tradition that goes back to the very start of the Great War on Terror. Secret detention of prisoners has been both a central feature of the US approach to its response to terrorism and a rallying point for the creation of new enemies. In order to sustain this practice, the US has resorted to remarkable levels of dissembling and language engineering. Fresh controversy has arisen in Afghanistan centering around Afghanistan’s insistence (rooted in Afghan law), that all Afghan prisoners must be under Afghan control (note: the issue of some 49 or so foreign prisoners the US maintains at Parwan prison is completely separate).
The New York Times first broke the story on this latest controversy on Saturday:
A commission appointed by President Hamid Karzai to investigate detention facilities run by American and British forces in southern Afghanistan claimed Saturday to have uncovered secret prisons on two coalition bases, an allegation that could not be immediately confirmed but that was likely to further complicate relations between the Afghan government and its allies.
“We have conducted a thorough investigation and search of Kandahar Airfield and Camp Bastion and found several illegal and unlawful detention facilities run and operated by foreign military forces,” said Abdul Shakur Dadras, the panel’s chairman.
Abdul Shokur Dadras, a member of the commission, said two of the jails were overseen by British soldiers at Camp Bastion in Helmand province, while a third jail at that base was under American military control. At Kandahar Airfield, also in the southern part of the country, three more foreign-run prisons were discovered — one controlled by American soldiers, one by the British and one managed by a joint coalition force, Dadras said.
The US, as usual, was quick to declare innocence. From the Times story:
Lt. Col. J. Todd Breasseale, a spokesman for the Defense Department, wrote in an email, “Every facility that we use for detention is well known not only by the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, but also by the I.C.R.C.,” a reference to the International Committee of the Red Cross, a nonpartisan organization that provides humanitarian care for victims of conflict.
The International Security Assistance Force, or I.S.A.F., as the coalition is known, said in a statement on Saturday that it was “aware of their investigative team looking into the detention facilities in Kandahar and Helmand and we are cooperating fully with the investigation on this matter.”
Once again, it appears that a restriction that isn’t really a restriction could be the basis for this latest controversy. From the Times story:
He [Dadras] said his team reviewed the number of prisoners as well as the details of their detention. The issue at Camp Bastion has been aired before. The British military must abide by rules that prohibit the transfer of prisoners to facilities where torture is believed to occur. For now, that concern is unresolved, and the sites where these detainees are held by the British forces could be the locations Mr. Dadras is referring to.
In Kandahar, the details are less clear. American forces are allowed to detain combatants seized on the battlefield for up to 96 hours before turning them over to the Afghan government. It was unclear whether Mr. Dadras was referring to such detainees or whether his commission had uncovered evidence of prisons that were illegally holding Afghans.
As we will see in a bit, this restriction to holding Afghan prisoners for 96 hours applies to British forces as well. Except that as with virtually all “restrictions” on coalition forces in Afghanistan, this one doesn’t apply if they don’t want it to. From the AP story: Continue reading
Greg Miller reports in the Washington Post that the CIA will be closing several bases in Afghanistan as US military forces are withdrawn from the country. I’ve been obsessing lately about US death squads operated primarily by the CIA but also affiliated with Special Operations forces and their bases. These death squads have been an integral part of the vaunted David Petraeus COIN strategy in both Iraq and Afghanistan (and rest on the heritage of death squads funded by the US in Latin America and those run by the US in Vietnam).
Miller’s article joins a growing trend toward public acknowledgement of the paramilitary activities the CIA has carried out in Afghanistan:
The CIA has begun closing clandestine bases in Afghanistan, marking the start of a drawdown from a region that transformed the agency from an intelligence service struggling to emerge from the Cold War to a counterterrorism force with its own prisons, paramilitary teams and armed Predator drones.
Think for just a moment about what is being admitted here. These are clandestine bases that are being closed. Those clandestine bases had their own prisons and paramilitary teams. Remember all the US denials regarding the disappearance of innocent civilians and their torture at secret prisons in both Iraq and Afghanistan? Those denials get a lot less believable with this matter-of-fact admission that clandestine bases with their own prisons and paramilitary teams are being closed. You can bet that those secret prisons did not sit empty and the CIA paramilitary teams did not sit around all day just playing cards at their secret bases.
The entire article is worthy of reading for the number of confirmations it has on CIA activities in Afghanistan. However, lest we think that Mr. Moral Rectitude is going to be cutting back on his war crime activities in Afghanistan, we have this near the end of the article:
This year, President Obama approved new counterterrorism guidelines that call for the military to take on a larger role in targeted killing operations, reducing the involvement of the CIA.
But the guidelines included carve-outs that gave the agency wide latitude to continue armed Predator flights across the border and did not ban a controversial practice known as “signature strikes,” in which the agency can launch missiles at targets based on patterns of suspicious behavior without knowing the identities of those who would be killed.
John Brennan will hang on to his “latitude” to continue signature strikes. It seems likely that he also will keep his death squads active in Afghanistan, but they will be operating out of fewer bases. International laws and treaties are just immaterial if you have enough moral rectitude.
Oh, and as a postscript, the article does confirm affiliation of
CIA death squads CIA paramilitary forces with military bases (just as has been at the center of the controversy surrounding the Nerkh base in Maidan Wardak Province, where Karzai expelled US Special Forces):
Even so, a full withdrawal of U.S. troops would probably trigger a deeper retrenchment by the CIA, which has relied on U.S. and allied military installations across the country to serve as bases for agency operatives and cover for their spying operations.
It appears that Brennan and the Obama administration just don’t care any more about maintaining secrecy on their war crimes. After all, who is going to stop them?
In a move that is guaranteed to provoke another tantrum from Lindsey Graham, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced to the Afghan parliament today that final handover of the Detention Facility in Parwan to full Afghan control will take place on Saturday and that he plans to release prisoners that he says are innocent. Both AFP and Radio Free Europe have reported Karzai’s claims. From AFP:
“Our efforts for the transfer of the US-run prison, years-long efforts, have eventually paid off and next week the transfer will at last take place,” Karzai told the opening of a new parliamentary session in Kabul.
“This transfer of prison will take place on Saturday,” he added.
“We understand that there are some innocent people in these jails, I will order their release, no matter if there is criticism.”
Radio Free Europe also carried Karzai’s call for abuse to end in Afghan prisons:
Karzai on March 6 also called on his security forces to end incidents of torture and abuse of their countrymen.
“Today, I want to promise the people of Afghanistan that they are safe inside their houses,” Karzai said. “The law should take its course only in relations to the criminals. I call on their parliament to raise their voice and react strongly to cases of abuse, if they hear about it. As long as we do not end abuse and torture in our own institutions, we cannot stop others.”
An investigation by the government last month unveiled widespread abuse in prisons run by Afghan forces. The findings backed a recent United Nations investigation that Kabul initially rejected.
These words from Karzai on ending abuse in Afghan prisons are an encouraging development. Let’s hope the words are followed with action against those who have been involved in torture.
If it does occur, this handover will be an important next step in the US transferring authority to the Afghan government. However, handover of the prison has been a very long process in which the US has bargained in bad faith. Back in November, Karzai lashed out at US deception in this process.
Note also Karzai’s reference today to Afghans being “safe inside their houses”. That is clearly a reference to the hated US practice of night raids, which Karzai has also been looking to end. Of course, US night raids are the primary source of innocent Afghans being in US-run prisons, so it should be no coincidence that Karzai would speak of innocents being detained and night raids in the same speech.
It should also be noted that the US has a long history of secret prisons in Afghanistan and, as Marcy has noted, Obama still claims the right of indefinite detention without charges in Afghanistan, so don’t look for Saturday’s handover, if it occurs, to include those prisoners that Obama and Holder believe to be their most important, even if they can’t come up with a way to charge these prisoners with any actual crimes.
Karzai’s move to release prisoners he says are innocent could well provoke a showdown. As I reported last April, the prison agreement (and the night raid agreement, for that matter, too) although described as giving the Afghans full authority, in reality was a sham that left the US with full veto power over the release of prisoners. Will the US try to prevent Karzai releasing these prisoners? Or will the US simply re-arrest them and take them to a facility still under US control?
During Barack Obama’s second inaugural address yesterday, many on the left were actually mentioning tears of joy, especially when it came to this passage quoted by AP via Yahoo:
“We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future,” he said. “The commitments we make to each other — through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
Despite Obama’s slap-down here of Romney and Ryan’s demonization of “takers” during the presidential campaign, Obama is contradicting his own record here. It is clear that he has been itching to cut Social Security and Medicare as one of his signature moves. Here is Matt Bai during the pitched battle of the fiscal cliff last month:
None of this is theoretical or subjective. It’s spelled out clearly in the confidential offers that the two sides exchanged at the time and that I obtained while writing about the negotiations last spring.
In his opening bid, after the rough framework of a grand bargain was reached, Mr. Boehner told the White House he wanted to cut $450 billion from Medicare and Medicaid in the next decade alone, with more cuts to follow. He also proposed raising the retirement age for Social Security and changing the formula to make benefits less generous.
Mr. Obama wasn’t willing to go quite that far. But in his counteroffer a few days later, he agreed to squeeze $250 billion from Medicare in the next 10 years, with $800 billion more in the decade after that. He was willing to cut $110 billion more from Medicaid in the short term. And while Mr. Obama rejected raising the retirement age, he did acquiesce to changing the Social Security formula so that benefits would grow at a slower rate.
YVES SMITH: Obama wants to cut entitlements. He said this in a famous dinner with George Will. I think it was even before he was inaugurated. He went and had dinner with a group–
BRUCE BARTLETT: That’s right, a group of conservatives.
YVES SMITH: He met a group of conservatives. And he made it very clear at this dinner that as soon as the economy was stabilized that he wanted to cut Social Security, well “reform.” But that’s just code for “cut” Social Security and Medicare. Obama really believes that this will be a signature accomplishment of his. That he will go down in history positively for.
BRUCE BARTLETT: That’s right. If you go back to 2011 and look at the deal Obama put on the table, he was willing to make vast, vast cuts in entitlement programs. And the Republicans walked away from it, which only goes to prove that they don’t have the courage of their own convictions. But Yves point is exactly correct. Obama really is maybe to the right of Dwight Eisenhower and fiscally. And it’s really at the root of so many of our economy’s problems, because he didn’t ask for a big enough stimulus. Has let the housing sector, basically, fester for four years without doing anything about it. He’s really, you know, focused more on cutting the deficit than people imagine.
Once the tears of joy get wiped away over the beautiful words Obama delivered, it would be best to stand guard against his actions, which almost certainly will be the exact opposite. To believe this is true, all we have to do is look at the great signature moves from Obama’s first inauguration. As Marcy pointed out yesterday, one of the first documents Obama signed the first time around was his executive order “closing” Guantanamo. This time, Gitmo is still open with no prospect of closing and one of Obama’s first signatures was to nominate his drone czar as Director of the CIA.
Another of Obama’s first signatures last time was on this executive order that purported to ensure “lawful interrogations”. As I wrote back in 2010, much was made of Obama using the order to end the practice of the CIA using secret sites for detention of prisoners, but there was no parallel language ending the practice for JSOC. In my post yesterday, I noted how the JSOC’s role in training those responsible for Afghanistan’s detention program have failed to eliminate torture and ensure lawful interrogations. Not mentioned in yesterday’s post is the fact that the UN report cited also notes that Afghanistan also maintains secret detention sites, just as Obama outlawed for CIA but allowed to continue for JSOC.
I see no reason to get choked up over yesterday’s rhetoric from Obama. Instead, I’m going to keep a close eye on what he does.