U.S. Gains Custody of More Detainees
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2002 People should expect to see the number of Taliban and Al Qaeda detainees in U.S. control to keep growing, according to Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem.
"The number of detainees will continue to fluctuate as the interrogations continue of those that are being detained by the Afghans," he said at the Pentagon Jan. 28.
"There are detainees throughout the country. There are over 300 being detained in Herat. There are hundreds that are still being detained up in Shebergan in the north." Afghan authorities interrogate the detainees and recommend those to the United States that they think U.S. officials would be interested in, he said.
"We continue the screening process until it becomes obvious that these are individuals whom we do want to continue to interrogate or to hold," Stufflebeem said. Determining their true identity, he noted, is a difficult matter.
"Since being under detention, some have lied. Some have changed their stories. Some have tried to attack our people. They'll tell you one name and tell me another.
The detainees have also made death threats against all Americans, including their captors, he added. "They are bad guys. They are the worst of the worst, and if let out on the street, they will go back to the proclivity of trying to kill Americans and others."
Afghan officials turned over another 22 detainees over the weekend, bringing the total under U.S. control to 482. At present, 324 are in Afghanistan under U.S. Central Command Control and 158 are at U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Their status and ultimate disposition remain under discussion, according to Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke.
Afghan Interim Authority Chairman Hamid Karzai is meeting with America's national security team today to discuss the detainees and other matters, she noted. Karzai is slated to meet with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at the Pentagon later this afternoon.
"This has been under review and under consideration by the lawyers for some time," she said. "There are policy and procedure considerations you want to take in determining the application of the Geneva Convention."
"We are in very unconventional times," Clarke said. "We're in a very unconventional war. So every aspect of it, including the Geneva Convention and how it might be applied, should be looked at with new eyes and new thoughts as to what we're experiencing right now.
If it's determined the Geneva Convention applies, she said the detainees might be categorized as lawful and unlawful combatants. These are the kinds of things national defense officials are looking at and deciding, she added.
One of the things U.S. officials are working on as they look at designation and disposition is how to identify people and what category they would belong in.
"At the end of the day, after a lot of hard work and consideration and deliberation, the American people and the people around the world will see that we are A, treating these people very humanely, and B, adhering to the principles that we care very deeply about."
A big part of the Geneva Convention's intent is to ensure prisoners receive humane treatment, she noted. "I can say with absolute certainty that the detainees who are under U.S. control are being treated very well."
Where detainees are from outside Afghanistan, Clarke said, U.S. officials want to ensure they are turned over to their home nation and would be handled appropriately. "We have no desire to hold on to large numbers of detainees of any kind for any great length of time, but we want to make sure these people are not back out on the streets.
"Never forget who these people are," she stressed. "They are part of organizations that plotted and planned for a long time to kill thousands of innocent civilians on Sept. 11. They are people who were involved in the Masar-e sharif uprising, which resulted in a lot of deaths, including one of our guys. They are people who since they've been in detention have vowed to kill more."
U.S. officials are going through "a very thoughtful, deliberative process to determine their disposition," she said.