USA — Task Force Ensures Fair Detainee Treatment, Commander Says

WASHINGTON — The joint task force in charge of the new U.S. deten­tion facil­i­ty in Par­wan, Afghanistan, ensures that deten­tion process­es are fair and trans­par­ent – and that pub­lic per­cep­tion match­es that real­i­ty, the task force com­man­der said yes­ter­day.

“Our first focus was to ensure that the per­cep­tion of U.S. deten­tion oper­a­tions was in line with what we did,” Navy Vice Adm. Robert S. Har­ward said dur­ing a Pen­ta­gon media brief­ing from Afghanistan’s cap­i­tal of Kab­ul. “We made all oper­a­tions open, trans­par­ent and inclu­sive. That’s through the whole detainee life cycle.”

Joint Task Force 435 was estab­lished in Sep­tem­ber, and in Jan­u­ary it took con­trol of deten­tion oper­a­tions, which moved to the new Par­wan facil­i­ty after the deten­tion cen­ter at Bagram was closed. About 1,200 mil­i­tary mem­bers make up the task force, and 126 Afghan mil­i­tary police guard the facil­i­ty, Har­ward said.

Ambas­sador Hans Klemm joined Har­ward at the brief­ing. Klemm was appoint­ed last month as the coor­di­nat­ing direc­tor for rule of law and law enforce­ment in Afghanistan, as the task force evolves with more civil­ian input into the Com­bined Inter­a­gency Task Force by Sept. 1. The new com­bined task force “will allow us bet­ter focus and align us to the Afghan goals on coun­ternar­cotics and anti­cor­rup­tion,” Klemm said.

The task force works close­ly with Afghan gov­ern­ment lead­ers, and will begin tran­si­tion­ing con­trol of the deten­tion cen­ter to the Afghans in Jan­u­ary, with com­plete deliv­ery Jan. 1, 2012, Har­ward said. The cen­ter is designed to hold 1,300 detainees, and rough­ly 900 peo­ple are held there on any giv­en day, defense offi­cials said.

Har­ward and Klemm out­lined the process they said is inclu­sive of Afghan fam­i­lies, vil­lage rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and human rights groups. Rules of con­duct apply to every per­son as soon as they are detained. The detainee’s fam­i­ly and gov­ern­ment offi­cials are informed with­in 24 hours of cap­ture, and every detainee must either be released or turned over to the task force for deten­tion with­in 96 hours. Detainees may be held in field deten­tion for up to 14 days while a deter­mi­na­tion is made as to their threat lev­el and involve­ment in the insur­gency.

For those trans­ferred to the deten­tion cen­ter at Par­wan, a detainee review board must be held with­in 60 days, and every 60 days there­after, to deter­mine whether the per­son still pos­es a threat that war­rants con­tin­ued deten­tion.

Ini­tial cri­te­ria for deten­tion includes either par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the Unit­ed States or har­bor­ing some­one who did, or sub­stan­tial­ly sup­port­ing the Tal­iban or al-Qai­da or oth­er forces bel­liger­ent to the Unit­ed States and coali­tion forces.

Detainees are appoint­ed legal coun­sel, and they and their fam­i­lies attend all unclas­si­fied ses­sions of review board hear­ings, they said.

The deten­tion cen­ter “is a world-class facil­i­ty” that is humane and fol­lows inter­na­tion­al law, Har­ward said. It reha­bil­i­tates, edu­cates and gives voca­tion­al train­ing to detainees. “One indi­vid­ual said he learned more at our facil­i­ty than he did at [an edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tion],” he said.

When deten­tion offi­cials feel con­fi­dent detainees won’t return to the fight, they are released after a meet­ing is held with their fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ty rep­re­sen­ta­tives, all of whom must sign a pledge that the detainees will not return to the insur­gency, Har­ward said.

“It ties the infor­mal and for­mal jus­tice sys­tem in a way they under­stand,” the com­man­der said. “We’re try­ing to lever­age those famil­iar bonds so they don’t return to the fight.” He added that the task force released a detainee today whose moth­er told them she would “take his legs off” if he rejoined the fight against the coali­tion.

Rec­on­cil­ing detainees peace­ful­ly back into their com­mu­ni­ties “is the focus of every­one here today,” Har­ward said, adding that recidi­vism of detainees is low, and bio­met­rics are used to more eas­i­ly iden­ti­fy and track them after they are released.

Few­er than 50 of detainees are for­eign fight­ers, Har­ward said, and of those, about 75 per­cent are from Pak­istan. The task force’s pref­er­ence is to have for­eign detainees repa­tri­at­ed to their home coun­tries, but if that can’t hap­pen, they go on tri­al in Afghanistan, he said, adding that sev­en have been pros­e­cut­ed so far.

Of about 200 detainees released this year, Har­ward said, all said they were treat­ed with respect, well fed and pro­vid­ed health care.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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