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Detainee Operations in Afghanistan Focus on Law, Dignity

By Christen N. McCluney
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2010 – A joint task force in Afghanistan is working hard to make sure detention operations are in order, the officer in charge of that effort said today.

“We maintain the legitimacy of detention as a warfighting tool, and this requires that we demonstrate our commitment to transparency, the rule of law, and to individual human dignity,” Navy Vice Adm. Robert S. Harward, commander of Joint Task Force 435, said during a “"DoDLive" bloggers roundtable.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates established the task force in September to oversee detainee review processes, programs for the peaceful reintegration of detainees into society, and coordination with other agencies and partners for the promotion of the rule of law in Afghanistan.

The task force has initiated a one-year plan to transition U.S. detention operations through the Afghan defense ministry of defense to the Afghan government, Harward said. This, he explained, will leave the door open for further transition to the Afghan justice ministry in the future.

Meanwhile, the admiral said, proper treatment of detainees remains a top priority.

“We provide each detainee with humane care, custody, medical and dental facilities, on-site family visitation, vocational and educational training,” he said.

In addition, he said, the task force intends to provide detainees with skills that will give them viable options other than returning to the insurgency once they return to society.

A detention facility that can hold up to 1,050 people has opened in Parwan province, and Afghan government officials signed a memorandum of understanding Jan. 9 that will guide the process for the defense ministry to take the lead on assuming responsibility for the newly completed facility.

Rumors of secret prisons are unfounded, the admiral said.

“There are no ‘black jail’ secret prisons,” he said. “When an individual is first detained, they're taken to a field detention site. At those sites, they're held for a very short period to determine who they are, their classification, and [whether they have] immediately actionable intelligence.”

From that point, he said, they're moved to the detention facility in Parwan or released.

“Once an individual is detained,” he added, “not only are we notified, but the government of Afghanistan is as well, so that there is a partnership and there is equal responsibility,” he said.

Harward also discussed reintegration programs that provide detainees with training, literacy skills and some trades. The task force involves its Afghan partners in that process to create a sense of accountability, he said, not only from the partners who will run the detention facility but also from local leaders who agree to accept these individuals back into their tribes and villages.

Task force officials recognize the role of the informal information exchange with local Afghans, and are trying to develop a formal process under the laws of war in which the Afghans can interact, leading to a timely, well-understood and just system for all, the admiral said.

The Afghans are anxious to take over their role, he added, and the Afghan government is enthusiastic and active.

“We now really are working to align perceptions with reality in what detention operations in Afghanistan are,” he said.

(Christen N. McCluney works in the Defense Media Activity's emerging media directorate.)

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Biographies:
Navy Vice Adm. Robert S. Harward

Related Sites:
U.S. Forces Afghanistan
"DoDLive" Bloggers Roundtable



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