April 16th, 2010
Last November the New York Times and the Washington Post reported the existence of a secret US prison on the outskirts of the Bagram air base in Afghanistan. This prison was, they reported, the site of brutality and systematic abuse. that prison was run by the Joint special Operations Command (JSOC). Prisoners there were illegally denied access to the Red Cross.
Now the BBC is reporting on a similar prison on the outskirts of Bagram. While the details differ slightly, and the BBC makes no mention of Special Forces or JSOC, these are likely the same facilities. the BBC independently interviewed nine former prisoners who gave similar accounts. They described being held in small concrete with no window and a light on all the time so that they were disoriented by being unable to tell night from day. the cells were freezing and prisoners were subjected to systematic sleep deprivation:
“When I wanted to sleep and started shivering with cold I started reciting the holy Koran,” he said.
But sleep, according to the prisoners interviewed, is deliberately prevented in this detention site.
“I could not sleep, nobody could sleep because there was a machine that was making noise,” said Mirwais, who said he was held in the secret jail for 24 days.
“There was a small camera in my cell, and if you were sleeping they’d come in and disturb you,” he added.
Not surprisingly, the US military denies the existence of the site reported upon by the BBC, the New york Times, and the Washington Post.
Old Wine in New Bottles
Meanwhile, the US has been trying to clean up the image of the main Bagram prison by constructing a new, “modern,” detention facility. The same BBC article also describes a visit to the new facility, which nonetheless, raises serious concerns as prisoners are subjected to sensory deprivation like that made infamous in Guantanamo photos.
In the new jail, prisoners were being moved around in wheelchairs with goggles and headphones on.
The goggles were blacked out, and the purpose of the headphones was to block out all sound. Each prisoner was handcuffed and had their legs shackled.
Meanwhile, the prisoners are accorded few legal protections. at the tribunals that determine their fate they are represented by soldiers who are not lawyers; none have been allowed to see lawyers.
These new revelations show how difficult it is to change systems once abuse becomes endemic. The afghan detention facilities must be opened up to lawyers and the press at least to the degree Guantanamo has been. Continued secrecy and isolation will undoubtedly lead to continued abuses. One would think that even the military, and the Obama administration, would realize that.
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