U.S. builds new detention center in Afghanistan
The new facility, which will hold up to 1,100 detainees, is aimed at replacing the controversial existing one at Bagram.
In an effort to lay to rest some of the controversy surrounding its Afghanistan detention program, the US is building a new detention facility there designed to be on par with one in Iraq that came to be seen by many as a model program.Skip to next paragraph
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Construction has begun on a new facility for as many as 1,100 detainees to be run by Americans at a US airbase at Bagram 50 miles north of the capital of Kabul.
Although the facility will be built on a far smaller scale than the main facility in southern Iraq, Pentagon officials hope that the new center will address widespread concern among human rights groups and independent experts over alleged secret detentions and prisoner mistreatment at Bagram.
Reports of detainee mistreatment first arose in 2002.
The Bagram Theater Internment Facility has come a long way since then but is still not as suitable as it should be for holding detainees for any length of time, defense officials say.
"We think it's really going to build on our best practices and lessons learned from our operations in Iraq, but recognizing that it needs to be tailored to the local Afghan population," says Sandra Hodgkinson, who oversees detention policies for the Pentagon.
The new center will effectively replace the existing center at Bagram, which is currently holding more than 630 detainees.
Current plans do not call for an operation anywhere near the size of the one in Iraq, a reflection perhaps of the US's evolving view about what its role will be in Afghanistan in the coming years. The new facility's relatively small size indicates that, compared with Iraq, the US is not planning for a large population of detainees. But it is also a sign of a long term commitment to holding detainees overseas.
Center will be larger, with more amenities
The new facility will be designed to house about 650 detainees, but could be "surged" to hold as many as 1,100 if the need arises, says Ms. Hodgkinson.
If that were to happen, the square footage for each detainee's cell would shrink from 80 square feet per person to about 50 square feet per person, but this is well within international standards, Hodgkinson says.
Like Iraq's Camp Bucca and Camp Cropper, the new facility at Bagram will have recreation areas, a large family visitation center, and other amenities to raise the quality of life for detainees, Hodgkinson says.
That will be an improvement over current conditions. Maj. Gen. Doug Stone, the commander of the task force overseeing operations in Iraq who was instrumental in successfully revamping the detention program there, was asked to go to Afghanistan earlier this year to assess detainee operations there.
The contrast was stark, says one official.
"The conditions [in Afghan detention centers] were brutal," says the defense official who spoke on background due to the sensitive nature of the issue. "The big thing that he came out of there with is they were doing a warehouse operation."