Several "unlawful" prisons run by coalition forces in Afghanistan have been uncovered at Camp Bastion and Kandahar airfield in an investigation commissioned by President Hamid Karzai. The find could put a further strain on Afghan-Western relations.
“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,” the head of the committee, Abdul Shakur Dadras, told the government Saturday, The New York Times reported.
Two sites were surveyed by Dadras’s team in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar – Camp Bastion, operated by the British, and the Kandahar airfield, which the Americans run. In the course of the investigation the team surveyed number of prisoners and the conditions they were kept in.
Further details and evidence will be released after a full report is made to President Karzai. The issue at Camp Bastion, otherwise known as 'British Guantanamo', had not been addressed in the past when the British stood accused of transferring prisoners to facilities where they knew torture was taking place. But it was not made clear in Dadras’s report whether these are the same facilities as the ones he described.
Similarly, according to the NY Times, the Kandahar case raises questions, as it’s not clear whether Dadras was referring to the regulation which prohibits the detention of an Afghani for a period longer than 96 hours, before handing them over to local forces, or if the team found evidence of a facility that is illegally holding locals.
News of the probe has received a quick response from Washington. Lt. Col. J. Todd Breasseale, a Defense Department spokesman, told the NY Times in an e-mail that “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 ICRC.” (The Red Cross has a strict policy of neutrality in matters of conflict.)
ISAF, the coalition armed forces command, also released a statement Saturday to say that it was “aware of [the Afghan] investigative team looking into the detention facilities in Kandahar and Helmand,” adding that ISAF is “cooperating fully with the investigation on this matter.”
The Americans then accused Karzai of trying to slander Western tactics in Afghanistan to garner political favor.
This is the latest in a string of accusations on the issues of detention between the government of outgoing president Karzai and Washington. Earlier this year, Karzai released from the US-run Bagram prison a number of Afghans captured by coalition forces for allegedly killing American troops – another move that stunned the West, who’ve been seeing Karzai’s moves as standoffish, while the leader increasingly accused the United States and Great Britain of gross human rights violations in their treatment of locals.
The souring relations that, according to the US, complicate cooperation on fighting terrorism have among other things been marked by the Afghan leader’s refusal to sign a bilateral security agreement with Washington regarding the scale of the American operation in Afghanistan after the upcoming military withdrawal in late 2014.
Although Karzai has been seen by coalition forces to be difficult to deal with, these latest allegations of potential secret torture sites are nothing new in the Western Middle East campaign. Similar revelations were made in 2011 about the Bagram Air Base, where US elite special operations had reportedly held detainees for weeks, US officials revealed to the AP.
Up until that point, Washington denied the existence of any such facilities in Afghanistan, despite evidence and testimony by former detainees and rights groups pointing to the contrary. The Pentagon then said that those were simply temporary holding cells where prisoners were not kept longer than 14 days, but the US officials the AP had spoken to said that this could go up to nine weeks.
The Joint Special Operations Command at Bagram Air Base was said to run a total of 20 such rendition sites. This is despite President Barack Obama’s criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of the region and its methods for extracting information.
Also in 2011, it was also revealed that the British were prepared to use any means necessary for extracting information out of Afghan prisoners, but that inquiry faced big problems before even taking off, and there were complaints from rights groups that the results were heavily doctored.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, the CIA’s worldwide network of facilities for the enhanced rendition of Iraq and Afghani terror suspects caused much division even within the agency itself.
An early April report also reveals cases where CIA officials requested that torture methods continue, despite analysts’ view that prisoners had no information to offer. This was all in line with the US push to extract information by any means necessary. And the report also found that a number of CIA officials lied to the government about how they attained some of the information, as well as altering a lot of the details to make a solid case for continuing.