Rights Group Says U.S. Detention Reforms are Key to Accomplishing Counterinsurgency Goals in Afghanistan

New York, NY As the Obama Administration considers next steps in Afghanistan, a Human Rights First policy paper released today notes that further detention policy reforms at Bagram are critical to achieving U.S. counterinsurgency goals in Afghanistan. In Fixing Bagram: Strengthening Detention Reforms to Align with U.S. Strategic Priorities, Human Rights First outlines steps that the United States should take now in order to establish legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan people and to more fully align U.S. detentions with strategic priorities.

“Successful counterinsurgency depends on U.S. actions being seen as fair, humane, and beneficial to the security of the Afghan people, whose cooperation is needed to ensure a stable Afghanistan,” said Human Rights First’s Sahr MuhammedAlly, who authored the paper. “To achieve this goal, the U.S. government should take further steps now to support U.S. goals of bolstering Afghan sovereignty, increase the capacity of the Afghans to handle detentions on their own, and to establish legitimacy of U.S. detentions in the eyes of the Afghan people by reducing the risks of arbitrary detentions, mistaken captures, and to ensure detainees a more meaningful way to challenge their detention.”

Specifically, Human Rights First makes the following policy recommendations:

The U.S. and Afghan governments should enter into a public security agreement that sets forth the grounds and procedures for U.S. detentions consistent with international law;
In order to avoid mistaken captures, the U.S. must improve intelligence that results in detention;
The U.S should reduce the risk of arbitrary detentions by providing detainees sufficient ability to challenge their detention;
The U.S. must work to increase the capacity of the Afghan authorities to handle detentions on their own by involving Afghan judges in a joint-U.S.-Afghan review body;
The U.S. should establish more transparency for detention operations by facilitating access to detainees and to U.S. detention facilities by Afghan and international human rights organizations; and
The U.S. should strengthen the fairness of Afghan criminal prosecutions of those captured by the United States by providing resources and training to soldiers to assist them in information and evidence collection at point of capture.
In September 2009, the Pentagon announced new detainee review board (DRB) procedures for the 600 detainees being held by the U.S. military at the Bagram Theater Internment Facility (BTIF). Also announced were reforms outlined in General Stanley McChrystal’s August 30th assessment on Afghanistan for both U.S. and Afghan prisons, focusing on rehabilitation and skills training of prisoners in order to prevent their radicalization, as well as on evidentiary concerns that hinder successful and fair prosecution of suspected insurgents transferred by international military forces to Afghan courts. General McChrystal noted that “detention operations while critical to counterinsurgency operations, also have the potential to become a strategic liability for the U.S. and ISAF” and concluded that the “desired endstate” is to transfer all detention operations, including U.S., to the Afghan government provided it has the capacity to run these systems in accordance with international and national law.

“We are mindful of the significant challenges that lie ahead to accomplish the detention goals outlined by the Pentagon and we are gratified to see improved detainee review procedures replace ones that were unfair and detrimental to U.S. counterinsurgency goals. To win back support for its mission and cooperation of the Afghan people, the United States however, must enact further reforms to U.S. detention practices,” said MuhammedAlly.

Today’s recommendations come as the newly created Joint Task Force 435 in Afghanistan undertakes its mission to oversee new detainee review procedures in Bagram and assess how to effectuate the “endstate” of transferring detention operations to the Afghan government. It also comes as the Obama Administration nears the end of its own policy review and prepares to announce its strategy for Afghanistan operations.

Read Fixing Bagram: Strengthening Detention Reforms to Align with U.S. Strategic Priorities.

See also Undue Process: An Examination of Detention and Trials of Bagram Detainees in April 2009.

For more information about Human Rights First’s work in Afghanistan, please visit http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/our-work/law-and-security/afghanistan/.

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Published on November 4, 2009

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