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Context of 'June 23, 2004: Newspaper Reports on Practice of Keeping ‘Ghost’ Prisoners'

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According to several press reports, the CIA has set up a secret detention and interrogation center (see October 2001-2004) at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan where US intelligence officers are using aggressive techniques on detainees. The captives—imprisoned in metal shipping containers—are reportedly subjected to a variety of “stress and duress” interrogation tactics. [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; New York Times, 3/9/2003] The detention facility at Bagram is a rusting hulk originally built by the Soviet Army as an aircraft machine shop around 1979, and later described by the New York Times as “a long, squat, concrete block with rusted metal sheets where the windows had once been.” It is retrofitted with five large wire pens and a half-dozen plywood isolation cells, and is dubbed the Bagram Collection Point, or BCP, a processing center for prisoners captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The facility typically holds between 40 to 80 prisoners before they are interrogated and screened for possible transfer to Guantanamo. [New York Times, 5/20/2005] Detainees are often forced to stand or kneel for hours, wear black hoods or spray-painted goggles for long periods of time, and stand or sit in awkward and painful positions. They are also reportedly thrown into walls, kicked, punched, deprived of sleep, and subjected to flashing lights and loud noises. [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; New York Times, 3/9/2003; Amnesty International, 8/19/2003] Some detainees tell of being “chained to the ceiling, their feet shackled, [and being] unable to move for hours at a time, day and night” (see December 5-9, 2002). [New York Times, 3/4/2003; New York Times, 9/17/2004] Psychological interrogation methods such as “feigned friendship, respect, [and] cultural sensitivity” are reported to be in use as well. For instance, female officers are said to sometimes conduct the interrogations, a technique described as being “a psychologically jarring experience for men reared in a conservative Muslim culture where women are never in control.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002] Human rights monitors are not permitted to visit the facility. [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Agence France-Presse, 12/29/2002] The US claims that the interrogation techniques used at Bagram do not violate international laws. “Our interrogation techniques are adapted,” Gen. Daniel McNeil claims in early March 2003. “They are in accordance with what is generally accepted as interrogation techniques, and if incidental to the due course of this investigation, we find things that need to be changed, we will certainly change them.” [Guardian, 3/7/2003]

Entity Tags: Daniel McNeil, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

The Guardian, during the course of an in-depth investigation of the Bagram air base in Afghanistan, learns that while some of the base’s prisoners are being transferred to Guantanamo, others are being purposely kept off the books, a practice that a human rights organization has coined, “RPing,” or “Rumsfeld Processing.” These prisoners are sometimes called ghost prisoners. These detainees are sometimes rendered to the intelligence services of Egypt or other foreign governments for interrogation. [Guardian, 6/23/2004]

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

Karen Greenberg, the executive director of the Center on Law and Security at the New York University School of Law, asks when the Obama administration intends on closing down the detention facility at Bagram Air Force Base (see October 2001). The facility has been the site of repeated torture and brutalization of prisoners (see January 2002, March 15, 2002, April-May 2002, Late May 2002, June 4, 2002-early August 2002, June 5, 2002, July 2002, August 22, 2002, Late 2002-February 2004, Late 2002 - March 15, 2004, December 2002, December 2002, December 1, 2002, December 5-9, 2002, December 8, 2002-March 2003, December 26, 2002, Beginning 2003, February 2003, Spring 2003, October 2004, and May 20, 2005). Greenberg calls it a “far grimmer and more important American detention facility” than Guantanamo.
Little Information on Prisoners - Greenberg is unable to elicit specific information about how many prisoners are currently incarcerated at Bagram, who they are, where they are from, how they are classified—prisoners of war, enemy combatants, “ghost” detainees—how they are being treated, what human rights organizations have access to them, or what, if any, legal proceedings they have been put through. “It turns out that we can say very little with precision or confidence about that prison facility or even the exact number of prisoners there,” she writes. “News sources had often reported approximately 500-600 prisoners in custody at Bagram, but an accurate count is not available. A federal judge recently asked for ‘the number of detainees held at Bagram Air Base; the number of Bagram detainees who were captured outside Afghanistan; and the number of Bagram detainees who are Afghan citizens,’ but the information the Obama administration offered the court in response remains classified and redacted from the public record. We don’t even know the exact size of the prison or much about the conditions there, although they have been described as more spartan and far cruder than Guantanamo’s in its worst days. The International Committee of the Red Cross has visited the prison, but it remains unclear whether they were able to inspect all of it. A confidential Red Cross report from 2008 supposedly highlighted overcrowding, the use of extreme isolation as a punishment technique, and various violations of the Geneva Convention.”
Plans to Expand Facility - Greenberg says that the government is planning a large expansion of the Bagram facility, which is envisioned as holding up to 1,100 prisoners. She recommends:
bullet The administration stop being secretive about Bagram and release complete information on the prisoners being held there, or at the very least admit why some information cannot be released. “Otherwise, the suspicion will always arise that such withheld information might be part of a cover-up of government incompetence or illegality.”
bullet The reclassification of all detainees as “prisoners of war” who are protected under the Geneva Conventions. “Currently, they are classified as enemy combatants, as are the prisoners at Guantanamo, and so, in the perverse universe of the Bush administration, free from any of the constraints of international law. The idea that the conventions are too ‘rigid’ for our moment and need to be put aside for this new extra-legal category has always been false and pernicious, primarily paving the way for the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.’”
bullet The rejection of the idea of “ghost prisoners” at Bagram or anywhere else. “The International Committee of the Red Cross must be granted access to all of the prisons or prison areas at Bagram, while conditions of detention there should be brought into accordance with humane treatment and standards.”
bullet The re-establishment of a presumption of innocence. “The belief that there is a categorical difference between guilt and innocence, which went by the wayside in the last seven years, must be restored. All too often, the military brass still assumes that if you were rounded up by US forces, you are, by definition, guilty. It’s time to change this attitude and return to legal standards of guilt.”
Greenberg concludes: “In the Bush years, we taught the world a series of harmful lessons: Americans can be as cruel as others. Americans can turn their backs on law and reciprocity among nations as efficiently as any tribally organized dictatorship. Americans, relying on fear and the human impulse toward vengeance, can dehumanize other human beings with a fervor equal to that of others on this planet. It’s time for a change. It’s time, in fact, to face the first and last legacy of Bush detention era, our prison at Bagram Air Base, and deal with it.” [TomDispatch (.com), 3/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Geneva Conventions, Obama administration, Karen Greenberg

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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