It's easy to forget that the road to Guantanamo began in places like Kandahar and Jalalabad.

There were certainly major divisions within the Taliban leadership regarding Bin Laden, and even Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, was apparently unimpressed by Bin Laden in the years after his return to Afghanistan. In 1998, Omar had even been planning to betray Bin Laden to the Saudis, but when Al Qaeda attacked the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the U.S. retaliated by launching cruise missile attacks on training camps in Afghanistan, Omar drew closer to Bin laden. Even so, the Taliban offered to hand over Bin laden after 9/11 if proof was offered of his involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

Holland: They were so close in 1998 — the deal had been done, and two jets carrying Saudi Prince Turki and a group of Saudi commandos had actually landed in Afghanistan and were waiting to pick up Bin Laden when the deal soured.

Worthington: That's right.

Worthington: There was no process. In all previous wars, the U.S. military has followed the Geneva Conventions, and, in accordance with Article 5 of the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, has held battlefield tribunals to separate the wheat from the chaff — or the fighters from the farmers. In the first Gulf War, for example, the military held 1,196 battlefield tribunals, and nearly three-quarters of the prisoners were subsequently released.

In Afghanistan, however, not only were there no battlefield tribunals, but Chris Mackey, who worked as a senior interrogator in the prisons at the airbases in Kandahar and Bagram, where the Guantánamo prisoners were processed, noted in his book The Interrogators that every single Arab who ended up in U.S. custody was sent to Guantánamo on the orders of senior figures in the military and the intelligence services, who received the lists of prisoners at their base in Kuwait.

Kandahar and Bagram were really the front line in the "War on Terror," where conditions were, I think it would be fair to say, primitive, brutal and terrifying. In the early months, prisoners were beaten, humiliated and prevented from speaking to one another. The worst abuses, however, happened in Bagram from July 2002 onwards. That was when at least two prisoners were murdered — including one, an innocent taxi driver named Dilawar, who is featured in my book and is also the focus of Alex Gibney's excellent documentary Taxi to the Dark Side.

And there were even worse prisons in Afghanistan — a number of secret, CIA-run prisons (to this day no one knows exactly how many), including two near Kabul. The "Dark Prison" was like a medieval torture dungeon, but with 24-hour music and noise, and the other was the "Salt Pit." Dozens of Guantánamo detainees passed through these facilities, as well as other "ghost prisoners" who have subsequently disappeared.

"enhanced interrogation techniques," including prolonged solitary confinement, forced nudity, the use of extreme heat and cold, sexual humiliation and the prolonged use of painful stress positions. The commander at the time was Geoffrey Miller, and he was later sent to Abu Ghraib to "Gitmo-ize" the Iraqi operations, with the results that horrified the world when the scandal broke in April 2004.

The overwhelming majority were not captured on any kind of battlefield at all and, as an analysis of Pentagon documents by the Seton Hall Law School showed, were not even captured by U.S. forces. Eighty-six percent were captured by the Americans' allies, who then handed them over, or sold them, as discussed above.

Dick Cheney and his advisors — especially David Addington, his legal counsel (and now chief of staff) — came up with the military order in November 2001 that authorized the president to capture anyone he regarded as a terrorist anywhere in the world, declare them an "enemy combatant" and hold them without charge or trial. That same document also established the military commissions. Then Cheney and his cabal persuaded the president to accept that the prisoners were not protected by the Geneva Conventions and in August 2002's "Torture Memo" sought to establish that interrogations constituted torture only if the pain endured was "of an intensity akin to that which accompanies serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." This in turn encouraged the widespread use of "enhanced interrogation techniques," which, at Guantánamo, were explicitly approved by Donald Rumsfeld.

Originally by Joshua Holland, AlterNet from on February 26, 2008, 1:00am

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  • Tom Usher

    About Tom Usher

    Employment: 2008 - present, website developer and writer. 2015 - present, insurance broker. Education: Arizona State University, Bachelor of Science in Political Science. City University of Seattle, graduate studies in Public Administration. Volunteerism: 2007 - present, president of the Real Liberal Christian Church and Christian Commons Project.
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