Gitmo's Heir?

Today's New York Times reports that the Pentagon plans to build a 40-acre detention facility in Afghanistan to replace the aging temporary facility there and possibly house detainees if Guantanamo Bay is closed. Currently prisoners are held in either a converted hangar or wire-mesh pens surrounded by concertina, and the Bagram Air Base facility is overcrowded. Plans call for a semi-permanent facility of quonset huts and administrative buildings, surrounded by its own perimeter wall, with the ability to house both the current detainee population and any additional prisoners netted by operations in Afghanistan or the closure of Guantanamo Bay.

This plan has met with skepticism on Capitol Hill, and it has renewed many fundamental questions about American strategy in Afghanistan. But it's a good idea -- one we should have pursued long ago. Our unwillingness to commit to the fight in Afghanistan, to devote resources and to build for the long haul, has hurt our efforts there.

Detention operations matter a lot in counterinsurgency -- the practitioners call it "counterinsurgency inside the wire." In his treatise on counterinsurgency, David Galula describes the importance of treating detainees humanely, not just because it's the right thing to do, but because doing so can often win detainees over to your side. In Iraq for the past two years or so, Task Force 134 has experimented with this approach and achieved modest success -- a marked improvement over the failed detention model used there before.

A similar approach is needed in Afghanistan. But it will take a newer facility, a secure one capable of providing humane treatment and housing for detainees.

And then there's the issue of Gitmo. The current presidential candidates say they want to close the site. But then what? Many of the detainees can be released, according to Ben Wittes' forthcoming analysis of the population there, but a significant number must also still be held. Moving those captured in Afghanistan to a secure facility in Afghanistan makes sense.

By Phillip Carter |  May 17, 2008; 10:45 AM ET  | Category:  Law
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"Moving those captured in Afghanistan to a secure facility in Afghanistan makes sense."
But only if your plan is to detain them for ever as POW's.

A more sensible solution is to put them in our federal court system and try them in open court, or put them back in their communities under a probation system.

Locking people up for ever when you have no evidence is not the sort of thing we should be teaching to a fledgling democracy.

What do we say as we pull out, "Here are the keys to the prison, we have already stocked it with your first batch of political prisoners. You don't need to give them a trial, heck we have already held them for five years with out one."

Posted by: JM | May 17, 2008 2:10 PM

I don't have a problem with a real POW camp in a real war, but I do have a problem with the USA running prisons in another country were we are neither the occupier or the dispenser of justice.
The rules of law state that when the war is over we release POW's.

If they are not POW's but are being held for non-war related criminal reasons then we need to get them OFF our hands and hand them over to the local courts.

If they are being held becuase they were aggressive to US troops, POW's, sorry, once you have handed back sovereignty or the war has ended you let them go.

If you are just holding them for ever with out trial becuase you think they may fight for a cause you don't like, they are POLITICAL prisoners. Not something we should have anything to do with.

Posted by: JM | May 17, 2008 2:28 PM

Uh. Yeah.

I can see it now:

U.S. interrogator: "OK, Hamid, do you see now how it's in your best interests to work with the government in Kabul?"

Hazara Interpreter: [Pushtu] "Are you ready to rally to us, noseless son of a Waziri dog, or shall I tell the boys in the back room to warm up the testicle clamps for when this clueless get of a Chicago gangster and a Hollywood wh-re departs?"

Prisoner: [Pushtu] "Go ahead, apostate boot-licking scum of the Yankee heretics. My sons will toast your testicles on your own torture implements."

Interpreter: "The Taliban says that he will speak with my commander later this evening about cooperation with our government."

GI: "See what I've been telling you, Abullah? Fair treatment and humanity will always work better than stuff like putting some guy's nuts in a vice. I'll go tell Captain Amir."

Interpreter: [Pushtu] "Farewell, testicleless one. We will be waiting."

Posted by: FDChief | May 18, 2008 7:43 PM

The Chief has once again said it all. Check out for the full text.

Posted by: pluto | May 19, 2008 8:49 AM

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