The Black Jail and the Loophole
The black jail is a secret detention and interrogation facility at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. The loophole is that the jail is run by U.S. Special Operations, not by the C.I.A. That means it was not included in Barack Obama’s executive order to shut down black sites, which he issued shortly after he took office. And both the Washington Post and the New York Times have articles out today about former detainees who have described harsh and abusive treatment in that secret facility.
The WaPo’s report is based on direct interviews conducted with two former detainees, both teenagers at the time they were in the black jail:
Two Afghan teenagers held in U.S. detention north of Kabul this year said they were beaten by American guards, photographed naked, deprived of sleep and held in solitary confinement in concrete cells for at least two weeks while undergoing daily interrogation about their alleged links to the Taliban.The accounts could not be independently substantiated. But in successive, on-the-record interviews, the teenagers presented a detailed, consistent portrait suggesting that the abusive treatment of suspected insurgents has in some cases continued under the Obama administration, despite steps that President Obama has said would put an end to the harsh interrogation practices authorized by the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The two teenagers — Issa Mohammad, 17, and Abdul Rashid, who said he is younger than 16 — said in interviews this week that they were punched and slapped in the face by their captors during their time at Bagram air base, where they were held in individual cells. Rashid said his interrogator forced him to look at pornography alongside a photograph of his mother.
The sexual humiliation endured by Rashid is described in detail later in the WaPo piece:
“They touched me all over my body. They took pictures, and they were laughing and laughing,” he said. “They were doing everything.”
During some sessions, he said, his interrogator forced him to look at pornographic movies and magazines while also showing him a photograph of his mother.”I was just crying and crying. I was too young,” Rashid said. “I didn’t know what a prison looks like or what a prison is.”
Both teenagers were kept in tiny windowless concrete cells “slightly longer than the length of” their bodies.
Mohammad told the WaPo reporters that interrogators yelled in his face while slapping and punching him, demanding that he tell them “the truth” about who he was:
“He kept asking me, ‘Tell us the truth.’ I told them the truth more than 10 times. That I’m a farmer, my father was a farmer, my brother was a farmer,” Mohammad said. “But they said, ‘No, help us with this case. Tell us the truth.’ That’s why he was slapping me.”
The New York Times also interviewed several detainees who had come out of the secret Bagram site:
The site, known to detainees as the black jail, consists of individual windowless concrete cells, each illuminated by a single light bulb glowing 24 hours a day. In interviews, former detainees said that their only human contact was at twice-daily interrogation sessions.
“The black jail was the most dangerous and fearful place,” said Hamidullah, a spare-parts dealer in Kandahar who said he was detained there in June. “They don’t let the I.C.R.C. officials or any other civilians see or communicate with the people they keep there. Because I did not know what time it was, I did not know when to pray.”
Similar to the WaPo piece, the conditions described by the detainees interviewed by the New York Times could not be independently confirmed, but “each was interviewed separately and described similar conditions.” In addition, “[t]heir descriptions … matched those obtained by two human rights workers who had interviewed other former detainees at the site.”
All three of the detainees interviewed by the NYT were eventually released without charges after spending weeks or months, or more, in near-total isolation, with their whereabouts known to no one — including their families:
All three detainees said the hardest part of their detention was that their families did not know whether they were alive.
“For my whole family it was disastrous,” said Hayatullah, a Kandahar resident who said he was working in his pharmacy when he was arrested. “Because they knew the Americans were sometimes killing people, and they thought they had killed me because for two to three months they didn’t know where I was.”
The three detainees said the military had mistaken them for Taliban fighters.
“They kept saying to me, ‘Are you Qari Idris?’ ” said Gulham Khan, 25, an impoverished, illiterate sheep trader, who mostly delivers sheep and goats for people who buy the animals in the livestock market in Ghazni, the capital of the province of the same name. He was captured in late October 2008 and released in early September this year, he said.
“I said, ‘I’m not Qari Idris.’ But they kept asking me over and over, and I kept saying, ‘I’m Gulham. This is my name, that is my father’s name, you can ask the elders.’ ”
Ten months after his initial detention, American soldiers went to the group cell where he was then being held and told him he had been mistakenly picked up under the wrong name, he said.
“They said, ‘Please accept our apology, and we are sorry that we kept you here for this time.’ And that was it. They kept me for more than 10 months and gave me nothing back.”
Excerpts from the Times interviews are here.