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War in Afghanistan

US Detention Facilities and Detainee Treatment

Project: War in Afghanistan
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Human Rights Watch publishes a report on the human rights violations being committed by US forces in Afghanistan. The report, “Enduring Freedom: Abuses by US Forces in Afghanistan,” is based on research conducted by the organization in southeastern and eastern Afghanistan from 2003 to early 2004. It “details numerous abuses by US personnel, including cases of excessive force during arrests; arbitrary and indefinite detention; and mistreatment of detainees” depicting a system that “operates almost entirely outside of the rule of law.” For example, the report finds that prisoners in the custody of US Forces are “continuously shackled, intentionally kept awake for extended periods of time,… forced to kneel or stand in painful positions for extended periods,” kicked and beaten, and drenched with freezing water in the winter. [Human Rights Watch, 3/8/2004; Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Human Rights Watch

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: US Detainees

In response to a request by Human Rights First, the Defense Department says, “The number of detainees within Afghanistan is classified due to ongoing military operations and force protection concerns.” [First, 6/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Human Rights First

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: US Detainees

Lt. Gen. David Barno, commander of the Combined Forces Command in Afghanistan, reports he is “in the midst of putting out some new policy guidance” and is determined to “make sure those rules are enforced across all our operations in Afghanistan,” and that his subordinates will be “treating all of… detainees with dignity and respect.” [CNN, 5/18/2004]

Entity Tags: David Barno

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: US Detainees

The Pentagon orders Army Brig. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr. to conduct an investigation of detention operations in Afghanistan. [Associated Press, 5/23/2004]

Entity Tags: Charles H. Jacoby Jr.

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: US Detainees

June 2004: 400 Detainees at Bagram

Lt. Gen. David Barno, head of US forces in Afghanistan, tells the Guardian newspaper of London that there are currently 400 detainees at the Bagram base in Afghanistan, none of whom have been charged. More than 2,000 people have been detained there since the war, he also says. [Guardian, 6/23/2004]

Entity Tags: David Barno

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: US Detainees

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

Category Tags: US Detainees

Army Brig. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr. files his 21-page classified report on his investigation of detention operations in Afghanistan. According to three unnamed officials later interviewed by the Washington Post, Jacoby finds that US detention facilities in Afghanistan are plagued with many of the same problems present in Iraq. He also finds that rectal examinations are being used unnecessarily to search for contraband, while magnetic wands should be used instead. He reports also that only half of the some two dozen US prisons in Afghanistan have written guidelines posted that list approved interrogation practices. [Washington Post, 12/3/2004] But Lt. Col. Pamela Keeton, spokeswoman for the US military in Afghanistan, will later claim Jacoby “found no evidence of abuse taking place… nor… any evidence of leaders authorizing or condoning abuse.” [BBC, 12/13/2004]

Entity Tags: Charles H. Jacoby Jr., Pamela Keeton

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: US Detainees

A CD is found during a routine clean-up of the office of a captain at Bagram. The CD contains half a dozen photographs showing uniformed but masked US soldiers pointing their M-4 rifles and 9-mm guns at the heads of handcuffed and hooded or blindfolded detainees. In one photo, a detainee has his head pushed against the wall of a cage. The shots were apparently taken in and around a US base in southern Afghanistan near the village of Deh Rawod, called Fire Base Tycze, between December 2003 and February 2004. The unit responsible for the photographs is the 2nd platoon of the 22nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum, NY. Soldiers of this unit admit to Army investigators that similar photos were purposely destroyed after the Abu Ghraib scandal erupted. A specialist explains in a report dated July 8, 2004, “After seeing the problems they had in Iraq, I knew this was a problem and should have never been done. I realized there would be another public outrage if these photographs got out, so they were destroyed. I knew it was wrong after I [saw] the reports in the newspaper on the prison abuse scandal in Iraq.” The destruction is an apparently unit-wide effort. A staff sergeant tells a specialist to “get rid of the pictures” and a specialist says he “verbally counseled” a soldier to “get rid of” his photographs. Another says, “I realize it makes me and my unit look bad, and in no way meant for this to happen.” The destroyed pictures allegedly depicted detainees being kicked and beaten. [US Department of Army, 7/8/2004 pdf file; US Department of Army, 8/2/2004 pdf file; US Department of Army, 8/5/2004 pdf file; US Department of Army, 8/25/2004 pdf file; US Department of the Army, 10/11/2004 pdf file; Los Angeles Times, 2/18/2005]

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: US Detainees

Paul T. Mikolashek.Paul T. Mikolashek. [Source: US Army]The US Army’s inspector general, Lt. Gen. Paul T. Mikolashek, presents a 300-page report listing 94 documented cases of prisoner abuse to the Senate Armed Services Committee. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004] Of the 94 cases cited in the report, 39 are deaths. Twenty of those are suspected homicides. [Los Angeles Times, 10/15/2004] In preparing the report, Mikolashek’s team visited more than two dozen US military installations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the US. Unlike previous investigations, Mikolashek did not look at individual cases. Instead, his team reviewed records of reported cases and the findings of previous investigations. Team members also interviewed 650 soldiers and officers and looked at broad Army doctrine and training. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004] Mikolashek’s report concludes that abuses were not due to “systemic” problems. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004] For example, it found no evidence that there was a “pattern of abuse” in the central command’s area of responsibility. [New York Times, 6/6/2004] The report’s conclusions are made in spite of the fact that the investigative team identified numerous problems at the prison stemming from poorly trained US military personnel, inadequate supervision, and vague and contradictory policies and orders. According to Mikolashek, documented cases of abuse were “aberrations” that did not follow from Army doctrine but from the “the failure of individuals to follow known standards of discipline and Army values and, in some cases, the failure of a few leaders to enforce those standards of discipline.” They were, the report stressed, “unauthorized actions taken by a few individuals.” The conduct of most of the soldiers, however, exhibited “military professionalism, ingrained Army values, and moral courage,” the report insisted. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004] The report’s conclusions stand in stark contrast to the Red Cross’s report (see February 24, 2004), released in late February, which concluded that problems in the US detention system were widespread and systemic. Though the report will be heavily criticized for its conclusion that military and administration officials should not be blamed for the atrocities, it does contain an abundant amount of evidence that they created an environment that encouraged the abuses to happen. For example, Mikolashek’s team found:
bullet The military hired private contractors to interrogate detainees because the military had too few translators and interrogators in the field. More than a third of these private contractors were not sufficiently trained. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004]
bullet Almost two thirds of the prisoners were kept in makeshift prison camps, or collection points, for as many as 30 days—60 times the 12-hour limit set by Army doctrine. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004]
bullet Preventive medical services were insufficient. Not one of the US-run facilities visited by the team met the Army’s medical screening requirements. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004]
bullet Copies of the Geneva Conventions in the detainees’ native languages were present at only four of the 16 facilities visited by Mikolashek’s team, in contravention of international law. There was not a single US-run facility in Afghanistan that had a copy. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004]
bullet At Abu Ghraib, the conditions were extremely unsanitary. The prison was seriously overcrowded, lacked an adequate supply of potable water, and had garbage and sewage strewn on the grounds of the outdoor camps. There were only 12 showers available for 600 to 700 detainees. Meals provided to the detainees were often contaminated with dirt and rodent droppings. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004]
bullet The Bagram base in Afghanistan had a leaking roof and no sanitary system. “Human waste spills were frequent on the main floor,” the reports says. Sections of the base were contaminated with toxic chemicals leftover from previous airport operations. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004]
bullet The military’s interrogation policy was confusing and instructions were often conflicting. “While the language of the approved policies could be viewed as a careful attempt to draw the line between lawful and unlawful conduct, the published instructions left considerable room for misapplication.” This could “create settings in which unsanctioned behavior, including detainee abuse, could occur,” the report’s authors conclude. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004]

Entity Tags: International Committee of the Red Cross, Paul T. Mikolashek

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: US Detainees

The UN’s independent expert on human rights in Afghanistan, Cherif Bassiouni, visits the Afghan government’s Pul-i-Charkhi prison in Kabul where 725 Taliban members and Pakistani supporters are being held. After his visit, he describes conditions at the prison as “inhuman” and says that the prisoners should be released. He also wanted to visit the US-run detention centers in Afghanistan but US authorities rejected his request. Bassiouni says the US’s lack of transparency “raises serious concerns about the legality of detention and conditions of those detainees.” [Reuters, 8/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Cherif Bassiouni

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: US Detainees, Taliban Actions, Rhetoric

Jonathan Idema (far right) and his colleagues interrogating an Afghan.Jonathan Idema (far right) and his colleagues interrogating an Afghan. [Source: Columbia Journalism Review]Four Afghans and three Americans, Jonathan Idema, Brent Bennett, and Edward Caraballo, are convicted of running a private jail in Kabul and torturing Afghans. The Afghans are sentenced to between one and five years in prison; Idema and Bennett to 10 years; and Caraballo to eight years. They were arrested in Kabul in July on charges of kidnapping, torture, and illegal entry into Afghanistan. The US government calls Idema a bounty hunter, and the Pentagon denies any ties with the Americans. But Idema says his work was approved by Afghan and US authorities. He also tells the court the FBI is setting him up. During the trial, however, Idema fails to prove that his actions were authorized by the US authorities. An unnamed US agency gave him a passport, he alleges, and a visa similar to those furnished to US Special Forces. He also claims, “while we were not in the United States army, we were working for the United States army.” He says he had hundreds of videos, photos, and documents that could prove his claims—but they were confiscated by the FBI following his arrest. In their defense, lawyer Robert Fogelnest shows a video of the Americans suggesting they have received an official welcome in Afghanistan. In the footage, they are officially greeted by Afghan officials upon arrival in Afghanistan. One of the officials present was the Kabul police chief. [BBC, 9/15/2004]

Entity Tags: Jonathan Idema, Robert Fogelnest, Brent Bennett, Edward Caraballo

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: US Detainees

An unnamed secret CIA prison in Kabul.An unnamed secret CIA prison in Kabul. [Source: Trevor Paglen]The New York Times reports the existence of a secret CIA detention facility housed in a hotel in the center of Kabul called the “Ariana.” It is off-limits to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the number of detainees held there is unknown. A former Taliban commander, Mullah Rocketi, was reportedly detained there for eight months. He says conditions were reasonably comfortable and he was not mistreated. He was released in 2003 after making an undisclosed deal with his captors. Another Taliban leader detained at the Ariana since January 2004 is Jan Baz Khan, according to an anonymous US military commander. [New York Times, 9/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Jan Baz Khan, Mullah Rocketi, International Committee of the Red Cross

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: US Detainees

Fourteen prisoners are transferred from Afghanistan to Guantanamo. They include Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, a Yemeni security official who had foreknowledge of 9/11 and was seized in Egypt (see August 12, 2000 and September 2002), and Saifulla Paracha, a Pakistani citizen who was arrested and sent to Bagram in July 2003 (see July 2003). All the other twelve detainees had previously been transported to Afghanistan as a part of the CIA’s rendition program. [Knight Ridder, 1/11/2005; Grey, 2007, pp. 257]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Saifullah Paracha, Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: US Detainees

The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) opens a probe into the deaths of two Afghan detainees, allegedly at the hands of US Special Forces soldiers. The two men, Wakil Mohammed and Jamal Naseer, died on March 1, 2003 and March 16, 2003, respectively (see March 1, 2003 and March 16, 2003). Mohammed, an unarmed peasant, was being interrogated about his role in a recent firefight. While he was protesting his innocence, he was shot in the face by an American soldier. Naseer, taken into custody with seven other Afghans for interrogation about their supposed involvement with local Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters, died about a week after his capture, allegedly from repeated torture and abuse. Los Angeles Times reporters Craig Pyes and Mark Mazzetti write, “Motivation for those arrests remains cloaked in Afghan political intrigue. The action was requested by a provincial governor feuding with local military commanders, an Afghan intelligence report says.” While the Army apparently looked into the circumstances of the deaths shortly after they occurred, no official investigation was ever mounted until the Crimes of War Project began its own investigation into the deaths. When the organization released its findings to two Los Angeles Times reporters, Kevin Sack and Craig Pyes, and the reporters filed a series of articles on the deaths in September 2004, the CID opened its own probe. Former Attorney General for the Armed Forces Yar Mohammed Tamkin, who directs the Afghan investigation into the death of Naseer, concludes in his own report that there was a “strong possibility” that Naseer was “murdered as the result of torture” at the hands of his US captors. Under Afghan law, he writes, “it is necessary for our legal system to investigate the torture of the seven individuals and the murder of Jamal, son of Ghazi, and other similar acts committed by foreign nationals.” CID investigators say that the Army’s original inquiry into the deaths was stymied by a lack of information made available by the Gardez unit’s commanders. “We’re trying to figure out who was running the base,” says Army detective Christopher Coffey. “We don’t know what unit was there. There are no records. The reporting system is broke across the board. Units are transferred in and out. There are no SOPs [standard operating procedures]… and each unit acts differently.” Coffey does acknowledge that “Gardez is the worst facility—it is three or four times as bad as any other base in Afghanistan.” Naseer’s death was officially attributed to “natural causes” stemming from an apparent sexually-contracted urinary tract infection, and his death was never reported, as is standard Army procedure. Shortly after Naseer’s death, the other seven detainees were transferred to the custody of local Afghan police, who mounted their own investigation. The seven were released without charge six weeks later. [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2004] Two special Forces soldiers accused of complicity in Naseer and Mohammed’s deaths will be given administrative reprimands by the Army in 2007 (see January 26, 2007).

Entity Tags: Yar Mohammed Tamkin, Jamal Naseer, Al-Qaeda, Christopher Coffey, Wakil Mohammed, Taliban, US Department of the Army

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: US Detainees

The Pentagon announces that 11 detainees have been transferred from Guantanamo to Afghanistan, [US Department of Defense, 9/22/2004] while 11 detainees have been brought from Afghanistan to Guantanamo. The total number of inmates at Guantanamo is reported to be 549. [US Department of Defense, 9/22/2004]

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: US Detainees

Side profiles of Habibullah (left) and Dilawar (right).Side profiles of Habibullah (left) and Dilawar (right). [Source: CBS]More than one-and-a-half years after the deaths of the Afghan detainees Mullah Habibullah (see November 30-December 3, 2002) and Dilawar (see December 10, 2002), the US Army Criminal Investigation Command completes its investigation of the two cases. It finds that 28 military personnel, including two captains, were involved in the incident. The perpetrators could be charged with involuntary manslaughter, assault, and conspiracy. A Pentagon official says five or six of the soldiers will likely be charged with the most serious offenses. The investigation concludes that “multiple soldiers” beat Dilawar and Habibullah, using mostly their knees. It is likely, according to Pentagon officials, that the beatings were concentrated on the legs of the detainees, so that wounds would be less visible. Amnesty International severely criticizes the long duration of the investigation. “The failure to promptly account for the prisoners’ deaths indicates a chilling disregard for the value of human life and may have laid the groundwork for further abuses in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere,” says Jumana Musa of Amnesty International USA. [New York Times, 10/15/2004]

Entity Tags: Jumana Musa, Mullah Habibullah, Dilawar, Patrick J. Brown

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: US Detainees

UN Rapporteur on Torture Theo van Boven completes a 19-page study stating that international conventions apply to wars against terrorism in the same way they apply to conventional wars. The UN report, titled “Torture, and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” says fighting terrorism provides no country with the justification to use torture or humiliate prisoners. It criticizes the treatment of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, but does not mention the US by name. Van Boven writes in the report that “the absolute nature of the prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment means that no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability, or any other public emergency, may be invoked as justification for torture.” He denounces the detainment of “thousands of persons suspected of terrorism, including children, [who] have been… denied the opportunity to have legal status determined and prevented from having access to lawyers.” According to van Boven, the abuses that these detainees have been subjected to—stressful positions; sleep and light deprivation; exposure to extremes of heat, cold, noise and light; hooding; forced nudity; and intimidation by dogs—are all violations of the prohibition on torture and ill-treatment. “Whenever there are serious allegations of torture, investigations are absolutely necessary. And the results of these investigations should be made public because it’s absolutely a public affair,” he says. [Inter Press Service, 11/11/2004]

Entity Tags: Theo van Boven

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: US Detainees

The Bagram escapees, clockwise from top left: Muhammad Jafar Jamal al-Kahtani, Abdullah Hashimi, Omar al-Faruq, and Sheikh Abu Yahia al-Libi.The Bagram escapees, clockwise from top left: Muhammad Jafar Jamal al-Kahtani, Abdullah Hashimi, Omar al-Faruq, and Sheikh Abu Yahia al-Libi. [Source: Ahmad Masood / Reuters]Four al-Qaeda operatives escape the high-security US-controlled prison in Bagram, Afghanistan. The four men—Omar al-Faruq, Muhammad Jafar Jamal al-Kahtani, Abdullah Hashimi, and Sheikh Abu Yahia al-Libi (a.k.a. Mahmoud Ahmad Muhammad)—were all being held in a remote cell for troublesome prisoners. They allegedly pick the lock on their cell, take off their bright orange uniforms, walk through the prison under the cover of darkness, and then crawl over a faulty wall to where a getaway car is waiting for them. One US official later says: “It is embarrassing and amazing at the same time. It was a disaster.” [New York Times, 12/4/2005] The Independent will later comment: “The escape was so remarkable that serious doubts have been raised over whether it can possibly have happened the way it is described. At the very least, analysts have suggested, the four escapees must have had help on the inside, in order to know about the gap in the fence, and to find their way there so easily through a maze of buildings.” [Independent, 9/27/2006] Al-Faruq is considered an important al-Qaeda leader who served as a link between al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah in Southeast Asia until he was captured in 2002 (see June 5, 2002). Al-Kahtani is also considered an important al-Qaeda operative, but not on the same level as al-Faruq. Both of them were scheduled to be transported to Guantanamo.
Deliberately Let Go? - In late 2005, former Bagram prisoner Moazzam Begg will claim that he heard in Bagram that US intelligence officers had proposed staging an escape to release a detainee who would act as a double agent against al-Qaeda. US officials strongly deny that that happened with this escape.
US Hides Identities of Some Escapees - The US soon releases pictures of the four escapees, but strangely does not identify which escapees match which prisoners. Furthermore, as the New York Times will later note, “For reasons they have not explained, the military authorities gave different names for [al-Faruq and al-Kahtani] in announcing the escape.” [New York Times, 12/4/2005] The fact that al-Faruq was one of the escapees only comes out during a November 2005 US military trial of a sergeant who had been accused of mistreating him in 2002.
Fates of Escapees - Al-Faruq will later release a video on the Internet boasting of his role in the escape. He will be killed in Iraq in 2006 (see September 25, 2006). [New York Times, 9/26/2006] Al-Kahtani will be recaptured by US forces in Khost, Afghanistan, in December 2006. He is a Saudi and will be extradited to Saudi Arabia in May 2007. [Agence France-Presse, 5/7/2007] Sheikh Abu Yahia al-Libi will have what the New York Times later will call a “meteoric ascent within the leadership of al-Qaeda” in the three years after his escape. He will become very popular within Islamist militant circles for his propaganda videos. In 2008, Jarret Brachman, a former CIA analyst, will say of him: “He’s a warrior. He’s a poet. He’s a scholar. He’s a pundit. He’s a military commander. And he’s a very charismatic, young, brash rising star within [al-Qaeda], and I think he has become the heir apparent to Osama bin Laden in terms of taking over the entire global jihadist movement.” As of 2008, he and Abdullah Hashimi apparently remain free. [New York Times, 4/4/2008]

Entity Tags: Sheikh Abu Yahia al-Libi, Muhammad Jafar Jamal al-Kahtani, Jarret Brachman, Abdullah Hashimi, Omar al-Faruq, Moazzam Begg

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: US Detainees

Two unnamed US Special Forces soldiers accused of complicity in the March 2003 deaths of Afghan soldier Jamal Naseer and Afghan peasant Wakil Mohammed are given administrative reprimands by the US Army. Naseer was reportedly tortured to death by Special Forces soldiers (see March 16, 2003) and the unarmed Mohammed was shot after a firefight near the Special Forces base of Gardez (see March 1, 2003). But a statement released by the Special Forces Command indicates that the reprimands only fault the soldiers for assault relating to the “slapping of detainees.” It states that the soldier who shot Wakil Muhammed was acting in self-defense. As for Naseer, “all other allegations, to include voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault of detainee Jamal Naseer, were found to be unsubstantiated.” A reprimand is not a formal punishment, rather it has the effect of reducing the recipient’s prospects for a promotion and can end a military career. A military investigation began in 2004 after media reports about their deaths (see September 21, 2004). [Crimes of War Project, 1/31/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Wakil Mohammed, Jamal Naseer

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: US Detainees

Nieman Reports, a quarterly magazine about journalism, publishes an article by investigative journalist Craig Pyes describing how the US Army attempted to undermine a Los Angeles Times investigation looking into the March 2003 deaths of two Afghan detainees (see March 16, 2003). It is believed that members of a Special Forces detachment in Afghanistan murdered the two men, identified as Jamal Naseer and Wakil Mohammed, and then covered up the circumstances surrounding their deaths. An official investigation into the two deaths by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID) found insufficient probable cause to bring charges for either of the two deaths. As a result of the CID investigation, two soldiers were given noncriminal administrative letters of reprimand (see January 26, 2007) for “slapping” prisoners at the Gardez facility and for failing to report the death of Naseer. In his article, Pyes recounts the resistance he and his colleague Kevin Sack encountered from the military as they sought information about the two deaths. The military refused to disclose basic information about the circumstances surrounding the two deaths, including the two men’s identities, the circumstances of their detention, the charges against them, court papers, and investigative findings. The journalists also learned that soldiers had been told by their superiors that it was important that everyone be “on the same page in case there was an investigation.” During their investigation, they also discovered that “military examiners had made some significant errors, including their initial failure to identify the victims. They also grossly misidentified dates of crucial events and persistently failed to interview key people and locate supporting documents.” [Nieman Watchdog, 3/2/2007]

Entity Tags: Wakil Mohammed, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, US Special Forces, Jamal Naseer, Los Angeles Times, Criminal Investigation Command

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: US Detainees

Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal.Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal. [Source: DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel/Released, via Reuters]Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen announce the nomination of controversial former special/black operations commander Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal to replace the top US commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan. At the Pentagon, Gates explains that “new leadership and fresh eyes” are needed to reverse the course of the seven-year-old war. “We have a new strategy, a new mission, and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership also is needed,” he says. The White House confirms that President Obama has signed off on the nomination. McChrystal is the former commander of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which during his tenure was tied to prisoner abuse and covert assassinations in Iraq, as well as controversy in the military’s handling of the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. McKiernan will remain in place until the Senate confirms the appointments of McChrystal and his designated deputy, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, also a veteran of elite US forces. Both officers have experience in Afghanistan and have more familiarity with counterinsurgency operations than McKiernan. Gates says that McChrystal and Rodriguez will “bring a unique skill set in counterinsurgency to these issues, and I think that they will provide the kind of new leadership and fresh thinking that [Admiral Mike Mullen] and I have been talking about.” [CNN, 5/11/2009; Army Times, 5/11/2009]
Prisoner Abuse, Geneva Convention Violations - Under McChrystal’s command, the Joint Special Operations Command supplied elite troops to a secret unit known variously as Task Force 626 and Task Force 121, based at Camp Nama (an acronym for “nasty ass military area”) near Baghdad. A Human Rights Watch report found evidence that the task force engaged in prisoner torture and abuse, and that the JSOC command likely violated the Geneva Conventions (see November 2004). According to the report, which was based on soldier testimony, inmates at the camp were subjected to beatings, exposure to extreme cold, threats of death, humiliation, and various forms of psychological abuse or torture. The report’s sources claimed that written authorizations were required for abusive techniques—indicating that the use of these tactics was approved up the chain of command—and that McChrystal denied the Red Cross and other investigators access to Camp Nama, a violation of the Geneva Conventions. [New York Times, 3/19/2006; Sifton and Garlasco, 7/22/2006; Daily Telegraph, 5/17/2009]
Secret Assassinations - During McChrystal’s tenure as head of JSOC, he led campaigns to track down, capture, or kill enemies. To this end, McChrystal built a sophisticated network of soldiers and intelligence operatives to assassinate Sunni insurgent leaders and decapitate al-Qaeda in Iraq. He is also understood to have led the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, a Human Rights Watch report on the secret units under JSOC command states that although targets included Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the operations also swept up “hundreds of anonymous, and often innocent, detainees.” One senior Pentagon officer, quoted by the Washington Post, warns, “People will ask, what message are we sending when our high-value-target hunter is sent to lead in Afghanistan?” [Sifton and Garlasco, 7/22/2006; Washington Post, 5/13/2009] Newsweek has noted that JSOC is likely part of what then-Vice President Dick Cheney was referring to when he said America would have to “work the dark side” after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001). [Newsweek, 6/26/2006] Furthermore, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has reported that JSOC ran what he called an “executive assassination wing” that reported directly to Cheney’s office, which then cleared lists of people to be targeted for assassination by secret JSOC units (see March 10, 2009 and March 31, 2009).
Pat Tillman Silver Star Controversy - The Pentagon’s inspector general found McChrystal responsible for promulgating false and misleading information in the aftermath of the “friendly fire” death of Pat Tillman in 2004. In the controversy, McChrystal had approved paperwork recommending Tillman for a silver star, which stated that he died from “devastating enemy fire,” despite knowledge of internal investigations pointing to friendly fire as the cause of death (see April 29, 2004) and April 23-Late June, 2004). McChrystal then backtracked only when he learned that then-President Bush was about to quote from the misleading silver star citation in a speech. The US Army later overruled the Pentagon inspector general’s recommendation that McChrystal be held accountable for his actions. [Washington Post, 8/4/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/17/2009]

Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, Task Force 121, Robert M. Gates, Task Force 626, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Rodriguez, Obama administration, Camp Nama, David D. McKiernan, Human Rights Watch, Joint Special Operations Command, Michael Mullen, Pat Tillman, Stanley A. McChrystal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Other, US Detainees, CIA Intel, Military Operations, Death of Pat Tillman, US Invasion, Occupation, US Military Strategies and Tactics

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