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Context of 'October 2001: Secret CIA Interrogation Center Set up at US Military Base in Afghanistan'

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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

A new interrogation unit arrives at the Bagram Collection Point (BCP), the improvised interrogation and holding facility at Bagram Air Force Base (see October 2001). The unit is headed by Lieutenant Carolyn Wood (see January 22, 2003-May 8, 2003), who leads a 13-man unit from the 525th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Bragg, NC. Wood’s unit is augmented by six Arabic-speaking reservists from the Utah National Guard. Many in the group, consolidated under Company A of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, are counterintelligence specialists with no background in interrogation. Only two of the soldiers have ever questioned actual prisoners. The training they receive is ad hoc and minimal. The noncommissioned officer in charge of the interrogators, Staff Sergeant Steven Loring, will later tell investigators, “There was nothing that prepared us for running an interrogation operation” like the one at Bagram. Nor are the rules of engagement clear. The platoon uses the standard interrogations guide, Section 34-52 of the Army Fleld Manual, and an order from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to treat prisoners “humanely” and, when possible, within the strictures of the Geneva Conventions. But when President Bush determines in February 2002 that the Conventions do not apply to Taliban and al-Qaeda captives (see February 7, 2002), the interrogators decide they “could deviate slightly from the rules,” in the words of Utah reservist Sergeant James Leahy. “There was the Geneva Conventions for enemy prisoners of war, but nothing for terrorists,” Leahy will tell Army investigators. And the detainees, senior intelligence officers say, are to be considered terrorists until proved otherwise. One group of soldiers is later dubbed “the Testosterone Gang”; they decorate their tent with a Confederate flag, spend large amounts of time bodybuilding, and quickly earn a reputation as some of the most brutal of the soldiers at Bagram. [New York Times, 5/20/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Carolyn A. Wood, Donald Rumsfeld, Steven Loring, George W. Bush, James Leahy

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

A sketch by MP Sergeant Thomas Curtis showing how Dilawar was chained to the ceiling of his cell. A sketch by MP Sergeant Thomas Curtis showing how Dilawar was chained to the ceiling of his cell. [Source: New York Times]Dilawar, a 22-year-old Afghan farmer and part-time taxi driver from the small village of Yakubi in eastern Afghanistan, is picked up by local authorities and turned over to US soldiers. Dilawar is described as a shy, uneducated man with a slight frame, rarely leaving the stone farmhouse he shares with his wife and family. He is captured while driving a used Toyota sedan that his family bought him to use as a taxi. He has three fares, men headed back towards his village, and is stopped by Afghan militiamen loyal to the guerrilla commander Jan Baz Khan. (Khan will later be taken into custody himself for allegedly attacking US targets and then turning over innocent villagers to US forces, accusing them of carrying out the attacks.) The militia confiscates a broken walkie-talkie from one of the passengers, and an electric stabilizer used to regulate current from a generator in the trunk of the Toyota (Dilawar’s family later says the stabilizer is not theirs; they have no electricity). All four men are turned over to American soldiers at Bagram Air Force Base as suspects in a recent rocket attack on the US base at Khost. They spend the first night handcuffed to the fence to deprive them of sleep. Dilawar is then examined by the base doctor, who pronounces him healthy.
Passengers Shipped to Guantanamo, Say Bagram Treatment Far Worse - Dilawar’s three passengers are eventually shipped to Guantanamo for a year, before being released without charge. The three will describe their ordeal at Bagram as far worse than their treatment at Guantanamo. All will claim to have been beaten, stripped in front of female guards, and subjected to repeated and harsh rectal exams. Abdul Rahim, a baker from Khost, will recall: “They did lots and lots of bad things to me [at Bagram]. I was shouting and crying, and no one was listening. When I was shouting, the soldiers were slamming my head against the desk.” Another of Dilawar’s passengers, Parkhudin, later recalls that Dilawar “could not breathe” in the black cloth hood pulled over his head.
Running Joke - Though Dilawar is shy and frail, he is quickly labeled “noncompliant.” One US military policeman, Specialist Corey Jones, reports that Dilawar spat on him and tried to kick him. Jones retaliated by giving him a number of “peroneal knee strikes” (see May 20, 2005). As Jones will later recall: “He screamed out, ‘Allah! Allah! Allah!’ and my first reaction was that he was crying out to his god. Everybody heard him cry out and thought it was funny. It became a kind of running joke, and people kept showing up to give this detainee a common peroneal strike just to hear him scream out ‘Allah.’ It went on over a 24-hour period, and I would think that it was over 100 strikes.” Several other guards will later admit to striking Dilawar. While most MPs deny any knowledge of Dilawar being injured by the physical assaults, Jones will remember seeing Dilawar’s legs when his orange drawstring pants fell off of him while he was shackled. “I saw the bruise because his pants kept falling down while he was in standing restraints,” Jones will later recall. “Over a certain time period, I noticed it was the size of a fist.” Dilawar’s repeated cries and pleas for his release do little besides annoy his captors.
Fourth Interrogation Marked by Beatings - Dilawar’s fourth interrogation, on December 8, turns sour. Lead interrogator Specialist Glendale Walls will contend that Dilawar is hostile and evasive. Sergeant Selena Salcedo, another interrogator, will say that Dilawar smiled, refused to answer questions, and refused to stay kneeling on the ground or in his ordered “chair-sitting” posture against the wall. But the interpreter present, Ahmad Ahmadzai, has a different recollection. According to Ahmadzai, Dilawar denies launching any rockets at the Americans. He is unable to hold his cuffed hands above him while kneeling, and Salcedo slaps them back up whenever they begin to droop. “Selena berated him for being weak and questioned him about being a man, which was very insulting because of his heritage,” Ahmadzai will tell investigators. Both Salcedo and Walls repeatedly slam Dilawar against the wall: “This went on for 10 or 15 minutes,” Ahmadzei will say. “He was so tired he couldn’t get up.” Salcedo begins stamping his foot, yanking his head by grabbing his beard, and kicking him in the groin. Ahmadzai will state: “About the first 10 minutes, I think, they were actually questioning him, after that it was pushing, shoving, kicking and shouting at him. There was no interrogation going on.” Salcedo orders the MPs to keep him chained to the ceiling of his cell until the next shift comes on. [Knight Ridder, 8/21/2004; New York Times, 5/20/2005]
Chained to the Ceiling - The next morning, Dilawar is still chained to his ceiling. He begins shouting during the morning, and is ignored until around noon, when MPs ask another interpreter, Ebrahim Baerde, to see if he can calm Dilawar. Baerde will tell investigators: “I told him, ‘Look, please, if you want to be able to sit down and be released from shackles, you just need to be quiet for one more hour.’ He told me that if he was in shackles another hour, he would die.” A half-hour later, Baerde returns to the cell to find Dilawar slumped in his chains. “He wanted me to get a doctor, and said that he needed ‘a shot,’” Baerde will recall. “He said that he didn’t feel good. He said that his legs were hurting.” Baerde tells a guard, who checks Dilawar’s circulation by pressing down on his fingernails. According to Baerde, the guard says: “He’s okay. He’s just trying to get out of his restraints.” [New York Times, 3/4/2003; Guardian, 3/7/2003; Independent, 3/7/2003; Knight Ridder, 8/21/2004; New York Times, 9/17/2004; New York Times, 5/20/2005]
Dead Days Later - Dilawar will be found dead in his cell days later (see December 10, 2002).

Entity Tags: Ebrahim Baerde, Glendale Walls, Jan Baz Khan, Dilawar, Abdul Rahim, Ahmad Ahmadzai, Corey Jones, Selena Salcedo, Parkhudin

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

The US military responds to recent media stories about the torture and abuse of suspected al-Qaeda detainees in Afghanistan by denying that any such treatment takes place. Recent articles in the Washington Post have claimed that detainees held at Bagram Air Force Base were subjected to “stress and duress” techniques (see December 26, 2002). These techniques include “stress positions,” where detainees are shackled or strapped into painful positions and kept there for hours, and sleep deprivation. US military spokesman Major Steve Clutter denies the allegations. “The article was false on several points, the first being that there is no CIA detention facility on Bagram; there is a facility run by the US Army,” he says (see October 2001). “However, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that persons under control of the US Army have been mistreated. The United States Army is treating enemy combatants under government control, humanely, and in conditions that are generally better than they were experiencing before we placed them under our control” (see December 2001 and After, Late 2002, January 2002, March 15, 2002, April-May 2002, April-May 2002, Late May 2002, June 4, 2002-early August 2002, June 5, 2002, July 2002, August 22, 2002, November 30-December 3, 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, and December 10, 2002). Clutter also denies that detainees have been subjected to “rendition”—being turned over to foreign governments who routinely torture prisoners. Instead, he says, most prisoners held at Bagram were released after being interrogated in a process overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross. “I would like to point out that persons under US government control who come to Bagram are not automatically deemed to be terrorists or enemy combatants,” Clutter says. “When they arrive, they go through an interview process to determine whether they are enemy combatants or have information that can help us prevent terrorist attacks against Americans or attacks against US forces. If they are deemed to be enemy combatants or pose a danger, they become detainees. If they are not, they are ultimately released.” [Agence France-Presse, 12/29/2002]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Central Intelligence Agency, International Committee of the Red Cross, Stephen Clutter, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

A New York Times article reports that the US government is rendering suspects abroad (see 1993) and that “stress and duress” techniques are being used at the secret CIA interrogation center located in a hangar at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan (see October 2001). “Intelligence officials… acknowledged that some suspects had been turned over to security services in countries known to employ torture. There have been isolated, if persistent, reports of beatings in some American-operated centers,” the article claims. [New York Times, 3/9/2003; Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004]

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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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