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.

Author: KATHY KATTENBURG

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35 Comments

  1. “That I’m a farmer, my father was a farmer, my brother was a farmer,” Mohammad said.”

    What he failed to add is that his moonlighting job was taking mortar pop-shots at Bagram Air Base for the Taliban.

    I do not condone inhumane treatment of prisoners. Like you, Kathy…. I stand against “Black Jails” and abuse that goes against the Geneva Convention. But unlike you, I refuse to find sympathy for a “farmer” who wants to brutally kill any American he sees. Perhaps we should stop trying to interrogate these people and just shoot them on sight when caught. Nothing wrong with taking out an enemy that is in the process of attacking American troops. Not even the liberals could fight that one.

  2. What he failed to add is that his moonlighting job was taking mortar pop-shots at Bagram Air Base for the Taliban.

    What I'd like to say in reply to this, I can't.

    What I can say, and will, is that you obviously DO condone inhumane treatment of prisoners. You make up a nonexistent “fact” — of a farmer who wants to brutally kill any American he sees, which clearly is not supported by anything in these articles, but you decide it's true, so it is true. And then based on your own made-up truth, you say you “refuse to find sympathy for” a detainee who you have made up this story that he did something. So your lack of sympathy is based on the idea that he is guilty for the lie you have made up about him in your head.

    And “nothing wrong with taking out an enemy that is in the process of attacking American troops”? The former detainees interviewed for these articles were not in the process of attacking American troops.

    Again, I can't state the conclusions I come to about you in this space. I wish I could. The closest I can come to what I'm really thinking is that I am feeling more strongly with every one of your comments on this subject that your fine words about God and faith are a complete and utter fraud. Not that you don't believe what you say you believe. But that your stated beliefs are absolutely empty and devoid of any meaning.

    I think I'm going to have to stay away from replying to your comments after this one, because it's too difficult for me to remain on the correct side of the edge.

  3. “make up a nonexistent “fact” — of a farmer who wants to brutally kill any American he sees, which clearly is not supported by anything in these articles”

    A nonexistent fact?
    So you you maintain that Mr. Mohammed was just sitting there, minding his own business, farming his heart away, when all of the sudden the American Gistapo stormed in and kidnapped him away to a place where they beat and humiliated him?

    And you know what? You are taking the word of a common Afghani thug over the word of American troops – not the Pentagon, mind you – American troops. That speaks volumes as to where your heart truly resides, Kathy. Much like Jane Fonda, you really need to get your priorities straight. Go ahead and embrace the enemy and play his game, cause they're already playing you like a fiddle.

    And I don't give a rats butt if you reply. Just wanted to keep the public informed of your readiness to embrace and accept anything a probable combatant says.

    One more point, Kat. I've been there. You have not.

  4. And one more thing, Kathy. My beliefs are firm. I am a Christian who follows Christ. You are a Jew that looks for reasons not to follow Judaism. As a Christian, I find myself in a very very delicate position because I am also a warrior. I do not hate my enemy. I do not dishonor my enemy. I do not beleive that my enemy should be tortured or any other treatment against the Geneva Conventions. But make no mistake, Kathy… They remain my enemy, and will be killed when they raise up arms against me or my comrades. These same people would kill you in a heartbeat, Kathy. I find it hard to understand why you attempt to glorify them.

  5. “I am a Christian who follows Christ.”

    “Who would Christ treat in a vile and inhumane manner?” “Nobody whomsoever” is the proper answer of a Christian who follows Christ. Those who answer otherwise serve someone else.

  6. What he failed to add is that his moonlighting job was taking mortar pop-shots at Bagram Air Base for the Taliban.

    Last time I checked, a man who was defending his country against invaders was called a “patriot”. If we left Afghanistan, that farmer and others like him would not need to launch mortar attacks against occupiers.

    Assuming that he was really launching mortar attacks and that it wasn't some other farmer doing it…

    BTW nice job defending torture, I see that the Bush presidency has really degenerated the little moral fiber that this country had…

  7. My beliefs are firm. I am a Christian who follows Christ.

    You may be many things, you may even think of yourself as a Christian, but you sure as hell are not following Christ… Very few people do, it's a tough thing to do, practically impossible, and it does not involve killing people for any reason…

  8. Public discussion and Monday morning quarterbacking is a sure recipe for defeat.
    Many in America have not, after 8 years, come to the realization that this country is in at war with radical Islam. Afghanistan provided real estate for our attackers. We are there denying them that same real estate.
    I have never been tortured. I have read accounts by Jerimiah Denton, Glenn Frazier, Bud Day, John McCain. I recommend these stories by men who have been tortured for anyone wishing to call the treatment in this article “torture”. I submit to you that those who call Abu Ghraib or the black jails in this article torture are trying to use these stories to weaken our resolve.

  9. Of course no innocents were held in detetion in Afghanistan. Bounty hunters didn't turn over innocent people…
    Day 1: America's prison for terrorists often held the wrong men
    http://www.mcclatchydc.com/detainees/story/3877
    Canada complicit in torture of innocent Afghans, diplomat says
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ca
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/25/world/asia/25

    GHAZNI, Afghanistan — Capt. Kirk Black, who trains the Afghan police in this impoverished province, developed a practiced skepticism about claims of innocence during a decade as a Baltimore police officer.

    Relatives of Gul Khan, an Afghan detainee, have insisted that he has no connection to the Taliban. From left are Mr. Khan’s cousin Qahir; his brother Kala; Capt. Kirk Black of the Army; and Gul Khan’s uncle Kheyal.

    But last January, when relatives of an Afghan imprisoned at the Bagram military detention center begged him to look into the case, he agreed to listen. Eventually he became convinced that the detention was a case of mistaken identity and put the family in touch with a lawyer.

    Soon, Captain Black was facing a potential legal battle of his own. One of his senior commanders ordered him not to discuss the case, and the military sent an officer to investigate him. He retained military defense counsel.

  10. From the WaPo link:

    the abusive treatment of suspected insurgents has in some cases continued under the Obama administration…

    I guess I'm not that surprised that this hasn't been pointed out before. A few posts down Mr. Stein told us about the “Bush War Crime Trials”. So now that these practices are continuing under the guy who promised to end them, are we going to soon start talking about Obama war crimes trials? Somehow, I doubt that.

  11. have read accounts by Jerimiah Denton, Glenn Frazier, Bud Day, John McCain. I recommend these stories by men who have been tortured for anyone wishing to call the treatment in this article “torture”. I submit to you that those who call Abu Ghraib or the black jails in this article torture are trying to use these stories to weaken our resolve.

    I am sure that these two fine people would have written fine books about torture had they survived the experience…

    The prisoners, Habibullah and Dilawar, were chained to the ceiling and beaten, which caused their deaths. Military coroners ruled that both the prisoners' deaths were homicides. Autopsies revealed severe trauma to both prisoners' legs, describing the trauma as comparable to being run over by a bus. Seven soldiers were charged.

    Yeah, we don't torture people, we just beat them to death… Gee, I wonder if their families will take it personally that we invaded their country, bombed the fuck out of it and then for good measure beat their relative to death

    Many in America have not, after 8 years, come to the realization that this country is in at war with radical Islam.

    Yeah, we are at war alright, at war with US Native Radical Stupidity.

  12. So now that these practices are continuing under the guy who promised to end them, are we going to soon start talking about Obama war crimes trials? Somehow, I doubt that.

    As soon as I see Bush frog marched to the Hague, I'll start asking for Obama & Clinton's heads…

  13. DQ: As soon as I see Bush frog marched to the Hague, I'll start asking for Obama & Clinton's heads…

    And the chances of this happening are…that's right, zero. So in the meantime its fine and dandy that we continue torturing just because the new guy has a letter behind his name that you like more. Oh, and he “promised” that we won't do it again.

    If Obama wanted to be honest, he would make good on closing Gitmo, end the use of indefinite detention, state secrets, renditions, and all those wonderful policies that everyone used to scream bloody hell about. Yet, he has largely adopted all of these as his own.

    I hope you do realize that many on the left fought against this because they knew from past experience if charges were not brought it would continue. Let me explain, when one side over reaches the other side flips out but if nothing is done the new “moderate” stance is in between those that complained and those that committed the crimes instead of those that complain and those that defend the criminal acts. In other words since they failed to impeach Bush which the left flipped out on the party brass about this is now the middle ground. I could go out and scream my head off but that will of course mean that the side that helped forge the new normal would be able to move it further to their side or I can keep my mouth shut and deal with the new normal. Personally I choose to do neither and sit back and moan and b*tch about both but that is largely because once Bush left office I knew this is where we would find ourselves. For other examples see Nixon's criminal legacy as those that were not punished moved into the Reagan and then Bush administrations and continued to push the idea of the imperial presidency all the way until we got Bush II. We did not press charges so the “moderate” stance just kept shifting right as has everything but social issues over the last 30 years.

  14. Gibberish

  15. Thanks for the “move along nothing to see here” but its more effective if you just ignore me.

  16. There was an article I read recently, not that it has anything to do with shooting farmers on site (road justice), that was historical by design, and basically maintained that occupations don't work, that whatever countries were involved, a lot of lives were lost, money spent, and whatever the envisaged outcomes, they never panned out. In the end the country was given back to its owners.

  17. “Bounty hunters didn't turn over innocent people…”

    Of course not. And when all those fine folks are shooting in the air, it's only an accident when someone “slips” and shoots someone else in the head rather than firing at the sky, instead.

    Innocent? Hell, no. Those people have real grudges. [grin]

  18. Bagram is a clear example of Obama following in the footsteps of Bush. McCain would not have put up with this crap.

    If you don't know what I'm referring to take your pick tons of articles about Obama and Bagram

    http://www.google.com/search?h.....hp&q=

  19. There is no defending Obama on this…same with Bush. Obama is just as guilty of war crimes as Bush.

    As L said…McCain would have never tolerated this.

    Ironically, we still torture and we are escalating the Afghan war, yet the world loves America again.

  20. McCain would not have put up with this crap.

    Somehow I seriously doubt that a McCain Presidency would have done things any differently…

  21. And the chances of this happening are…that's right, zero. So in the meantime its fine and dandy that we continue torturing just because the new guy has a letter behind his name that you like more.

    Just because I am not willing to hold a Democratic President to a stricter legal standard than a Republican President does not mean that I approve what he is doing… But if you have a real problem with his actions, you know where to start, put Bush and his administration on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity…

  22. Really…why would a guy that was tortured for years stop the US from torturing? There is no logical reason to think McCain would have done things differently, none at all.

  23. Really…why would a guy that was tortured for years stop the US from torturing? There is no logical reason to think McCain would have done things differently, none at all.

    He's a republican, he spent eight years with his head up George W Bush's ass.

  24. To put it simply: politicians don't give up their powers, they expand on them. I'd love to have a full scale investigation of Bush, and a lot of others, but it's not up to me.

  25. “a man who was defending his country against invaders was called a “patriot”. “

    This was not a man representing the legitimate government of Afghanistan, moron. This was an extremist hired by the Taliban. You already know that, so your motives must be other than right versus wrong.

    “BTW nice job defending torture”.

    Go back and read my first statement, ya boob. I specifically condemned ALL violations of the Geneva Conventions. Nice try.

    “but you sure as hell are not following Christ…”

    And I'm supposed to take any definition of Christian from an atheist? I don't think so.
    I absolutely fall short of Christ. Everyone does, bro. I do me level-headed best to live by his example toward my fellow human beings. Once again, I fall short on that as well. I ask forgiveness for these shortcomings on a daily basis. Being a warrior, I am in a precarious situation, aren't I. Read the Bible sometime. You'll see that war happens. There are many soldiers mentioned in the Bible who followed Christ. How do you suppose this is possible?

  26. “Gee, I wonder if their families will take it personally that we invaded their country, bombed the f**k out of it and then for good measure beat their relative to death…”

    Ok, fine. You're a hippie peacenik. That's great. You wouldn't condone war if Russian troops were marching down mainstreet in your town. You'd probably go out and join them. The TALIBAN is our enemy, DQ. The TALIBAN. As Afghanistan's ruling group, the Taliban (via Al Quaida) attacked the United States in New York and Washington, DC. They provided the training camps and money for those enterprises. So please stop talking down the reason we are in Afghanistan.

    And who is this “we” that you speak of that is at war with “US Native Radical Stupidity”. Would that be you and Pelosi? Reid? The ACLU? Who?

  27. You are correct, Rachel. Christ would never treat anyone in a vile and inhumane manner. Although he did give the money changers in the Temple a rough go at it. He threw over their tables and called them blasphemers. But I digress…..

    I do not kill in the name of Christ. Never claimed that once. I follow my government's laws and fight as I am ordered. As I mentioned above, I am not the only soldier to have served Christ – it's all through the Bible if you care to check it out. I do not serve two masters here. If the military were to tell me to torture, I would refuse that unlawful order. If they were to tell me to shoot unarmed civilians, then too I would refuse that unlawful order.

  28. And who is this “we” that you speak of that is at war with “US Native Radical Stupidity”. Would that be you and Pelosi? Reid? The ACLU? Who?

    Dumb ass morons who think they can win a war in Afghanistan…

  29. The TALIBAN is our enemy, DQ. The TALIBAN. As Afghanistan's ruling group, the Taliban (via Al Quaida) attacked the United States in New York and Washington, DC. They provided the training camps and money for those enterprises. So please stop talking down the reason we are in Afghanistan.

    The TALIBAN are bunch of illiterate dumb ass hicks who could not not find NYC on a map of the world if it was the only city on the map. Al Qaeda is a Saudi organization created and funded by Saudis with full support of the US government, unfortunately it went rogue…

    You'll also observe that the people who flew the airplane into the WTC on 9/11 were predominantly Saudis, that the master planner was Egyptian and that most of the planning was done in Germany…

    You wouldn't condone war if Russian troops were marching down mainstreet in your town. You'd probably go out and join them.

    No, I'd curse the dumb jackasses who despite having spent billions on Defense couldn't defend the US, and while doing that I would watch what the Ruskies were doing and once I'd figured out there operational patterns( which roads they use when patrolling, where they are getting their supplies, etc) I start planting IEDs, eventually they'd get tired of getting blown to smithereens every time they left their bases and leave…

    You know the way we are in Iraq and will in Afghanistan…

  30. “Dumb ass morons who think they can win a war in Afghanistan.”

    Hey, wait a minute there, DQ. I didn't say anything about winning. I'm not sure we can unless a full-fledged revamping of strategy were to take place. Simply throwing troops at it (as the Army tends to do) will not help. If that's all they plan to do with his announcement on Tuesday, then Obama would be best suited to bring them all home and let the Afghanis figure it out on their own. Pakistan appears to be playing ball (for now) however. So perhaps a good round of Taliban/Al Quaida whoop-butt is in order. I'm just not sure.
    I guess we'll see.

  31. I know the history and bios of the 9/11 attackers, DQ. I know where they come from.
    You seem to be forgetting that OBL came out of Saudi as well, but pretty much refined the Taliban during Soviet occupation. These two groups are synonymous.

    And to dismiss them as illiterate hicks is a very very bad habit to get into. You must respect your enemy. They surprised everyone with there capabilities. Just look at the Viet Kong. Same deal, except they were fighting for their homeland. These clowns are fighting for an ideal for another person's homeland.

    And I'm sorry about the Russians marching down mainstreet thing. That was uncalled for. I'm sure we'd both fight them accordingly. Figuring out operational patterns and attacking would be my forte as well. Of course, then we'd be patriots – unless we started planting IEDs and suicide bombs to kill anyone other than enemy military.

  32. Just look at the Viet Kong. Same deal, except they were fighting for their homeland. These clowns are fighting for an ideal for another person's homeland.

    The Taliban is predominantly Pashtun, and the Pashtun are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. The Taliban is not fighting a war on someone else's turf, they are at home, and if you think the US can beat the Pashtun on their own turf, you should ask the Russians how well that worked for them, or the Brits for that matter.

    And like the Vietnamese in the 60's, the Pashtun have survived 30 years of non-stop war…

  33. You are SO incorrect or at least mistaken. The Taliban was a Pakistani creation to further solidify fundamentalist Islam in Afghanistan. They recruited Pashtuns in order to do it, much like they recruit Kashmiris to attempt to culturally overrun the Indian province of Kashmir. They are slowly doing the same thing in Europe, in case you haven't noticed. But that's another story altogether.

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