By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 6, 2010 - The joint task force in charge of the new U.S. detention facility in Parwan, Afghanistan, ensures that detention processes are fair and transparent – and that public perception matches that reality, the task force commander said yesterday.
"Our first focus was to ensure that the perception of U.S. detention operations was in line with what we did," Navy Vice Adm. Robert S. Harward said during a Pentagon media briefing from Afghanistan's capital of Kabul. "We made all operations open, transparent and inclusive. That's through the whole detainee life cycle."
Joint Task Force 435 was established in September, and in January it took control of detention operations, which moved to the new Parwan facility after the detention center at Bagram was closed. About 1,200 military members make up the task force, and 126 Afghan military police guard the facility, Harward said.
Ambassador Hans Klemm joined Harward at the briefing. Klemm was appointed last month as the coordinating director for rule of law and law enforcement in Afghanistan, as the task force evolves with more civilian input into the Combined Interagency Task Force by Sept. 1. The new combined task force "will allow us better focus and align us to the Afghan goals on counternarcotics and anticorruption," Klemm said.
The task force works closely with Afghan government leaders, and will begin transitioning control of the detention center to the Afghans in January, with complete delivery Jan. 1, 2012, Harward said. The center is designed to hold 1,300 detainees, and roughly 900 people are held there on any given day, defense officials said.
Harward and Klemm outlined the process they said is inclusive of Afghan families, village representatives, and human rights groups. Rules of conduct apply to every person as soon as they are detained. The detainee's family and government officials are informed within 24 hours of capture, and every detainee must either be released or turned over to the task force for detention within 96 hours. Detainees may be held in field detention for up to 14 days while a determination is made as to their threat level and involvement in the insurgency.
For those transferred to the detention center at Parwan, a detainee review board must be held within 60 days, and every 60 days thereafter, to determine whether the person still poses a threat that warrants continued detention.
Initial criteria for detention includes either participation in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the United States or harboring someone who did, or substantially supporting the Taliban or al-Qaida or other forces belligerent to the United States and coalition forces.
Detainees are appointed legal counsel, and they and their families attend all unclassified sessions of review board hearings, they said.
The detention center "is a world-class facility" that is humane and follows international law, Harward said. It rehabilitates, educates and gives vocational training to detainees. "One individual said he learned more at our facility than he did at [an educational institution]," he said.
When detention officials feel confident detainees won't return to the fight, they are released after a meeting is held with their families and community representatives, all of whom must sign a pledge that the detainees will not return to the insurgency, Harward said.
"It ties the informal and formal justice system in a way they understand," the commander said. "We're trying to leverage those familiar bonds so they don't return to the fight." He added that the task force released a detainee today whose mother told them she would "take his legs off" if he rejoined the fight against the coalition.
Reconciling detainees peacefully back into their communities "is the focus of everyone here today," Harward said, adding that recidivism of detainees is low, and biometrics are used to more easily identify and track them after they are released.
Fewer than 50 of detainees are foreign fighters, Harward said, and of those, about 75 percent are from Pakistan. The task force's preference is to have foreign detainees repatriated to their home countries, but if that can't happen, they go on trial in Afghanistan, he said, adding that seven have been prosecuted so far.
Of about 200 detainees released this year, Harward said, all said they were treated with respect, well fed and provided health care.