Monday, June 16, 2008
By Tom Lasseter
KABUL, Afghanistan — American soldiers herded the detainees into holding pens of razor-sharp concertina wire, the kind that's used to corral livestock.
The guards kicked, kneed and punched many of the men until they collapsed in pain. U.S. troops shackled and dragged other detainees to small isolation rooms, then hung them by their wrists from chains dangling from the wire mesh ceiling.
Former guards and detainees whom McClatchy interviewed said Bagram was a center of systematic brutality for at least 20 months, starting in late 2001. Yet the soldiers responsible have escaped serious punishment.
The most violent of the major U.S. detention centers, the McClatchy investigation found, was Bagram, an old Soviet airstrip about 30 miles outside Kabul. The worst period at Bagram was the seven months from the summer of 2002 to spring of 2003, when interrogators there used techniques that when repeated later at Abu Ghraib led to wholesale abuses.
The soldier who faced the most serious charges, Spc. Willie Brand, admitted that he hit Dilawar about 37 times, including some 30 times in the flesh around the knees during one session in an isolation cell.
Brand, who faced up to 11 years in prison, was reduced in rank to private — his only punishment — after he was found guilty of assaulting and maiming Dilawar.
The mistreatment of detainees at Bagram, some legal experts said, may have been a violation of the 1949 Geneva Convention on prisoners of war, which forbids violence against or humiliating treatment of detainees.
The U.S. War Crimes Act of 1996 imposes penalties up to death for such mistreatment.
At Bagram, however, the rules didn't apply. In February 2002, President Bush issued an order denying suspected Taliban and al Qaida detainees prisoner-of-war status. He also denied them basic Geneva protections known as Common Article Three, which sets a minimum standard for humane treatment.
In sweeping aside Common Article Three, the Bush administration created an environment in which abuse such as that at Bagram was more likely, said Garraway, a former professor at the U.S. Naval War College.
The military police rulebook saying that enemy prisoners of war should be treated humanely didn't apply, he said, because the detainees weren't prisoners of war, according to the Bush administration's decision to withhold Geneva Convention protections from suspected Taliban and al Qaida detainees.
Senior Pentagon officials refused to be interviewed for this article. In response to a series of questions and interview requests, Col. Gary Keck, a Defense Department spokesman, released this statement:
"The Department of Defense policy is clear — we treat all detainees humanely. The United States operates safe, humane and professional detention operations for unlawful enemy combatants at war with this country."
No U.S. military officer above the rank of captain has been called to account for what happened at Bagram.
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