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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.

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Joanne Mariner, counterterrorism director for Human Rights Watch, interviewed several former detainees who had been held at Bagram in her most recent visit to Kabul this spring. She said that her interviews seemed to indicate that the abusive treatment of detainees in Afghanistan is a thing of the past.

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Their complaints related largely to the way in which they were being held, not abusive conditions or mistreatment.

"The problem seems to be more the detention than the treatment," says Ms. Mariner.

Many of the former detainees with whom she spoke said they didn't know why they were being held or didn't understand the legal process that would determine their future. The International Committee for the Red Cross also highlighted this issue in a report it prepared June.

Although she has no personal experience with detention operations in Iraq, she said her organization has found that detention operations in Afghanistan have generally trailed improvements in Iraq.

The only other substantial holding facility in Afghanistan is the Afghan National Detention Center near Kabul which is Afghan-run. Afghan nationals previously held at Guantánamo Bay have been transferred to one high-security wing of that facility, known as Pol-e-Charki. Although the legal future of US-held detainees remains unclear, detainees can be transferred to Pol-e-Charki and tried in the Afghan criminal court system.

The Iraq experience

In building a new facility in Afghanistan, the Pentagon is taking a page from General Stone's success in Iraq.

After the human rights and public relations disaster that grew from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in 2004, defense officials knew they had to build a better system there.

Ultimately, the US military built a reasonably modern facility at Camp Cropper near Baghdad and Camp Bucca in southern Iraq. But riots, escapes, and attacks on guards were still commonplace. US officials became concerned they were creating conditions for a "mini-insurgency" inside the confines of the detention facility.

But by the summer of last year, the military officials were able to get control of the violence within the prison under Stone's direction. They separated extremist detainees from the moderate ones, brought moderate imams from Baghdad to teach the detainees, and created visitation hours for families of detainees.

In addition, each detainee was given a regular review of his case to keep him informed of the basis on which he was being held. Now all but those whom officials consider to be the most extreme of about 20,000 detainees are being released over a period of time.

US officials have already tried to incorporate some of the measures that worked in Iraq at Bagram. Several video teleconference sites have been established to link family members around the country with detainees held in Bagram.