Inside the Secret Interrogation Facility at Bagram

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The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) runs a classified interrogation facility for high-value detainees inside Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, defense and administration officials said, and prisoners there are sometimes subject to tougher interrogation methods than those used elsewhere.

Both the New York Times and the BBC reported that prisoners who passed through the facility reported abuse, like beatings and sexual humiliation, to the Red Cross, which is not allowed access. The commander in charge of detention operations in Afghanistan, Vice Admiral Robert Harward, has insisted that all detainees under his purview have regular Red Cross access and are not mistreated.

It has been previously reported that the facility, beige on the outside with a green gate, was operated by members of a Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)  group, allegedly outside of Harward's jurisdiction. But JSOC, a component command made up of highly secret special mission units and task forces, does not operate the facility.

Instead, it is manned by intelligence operatives and interrogators who work for the DIA's Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center (DCHC). They perform interrogations for a sub-unit of Task Force 714, an elite counter-terrorism brigade.

Called the "black jail" by some of those who have transited through it, it is a way-point for detainees who are thought to possess actionable information about the Taliban or Al Qaeda.

Intelligence gleaned from these interrogations has often led to some of the military's highest profile captures. Usually, captives are first detained at one of at least six classified Field Interrogation Sites in Afghanistan, and then dropped off at the DIA facility -- and, when the interrogators are finished, transferred to the main prison population at the Bagram Theater Internment Facility.

"DoD does operate some temporary screening detention facilities which are classified to preserve operational security; however, both the [Red Cross] and the host nation have knowledge of these facilities," said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesperson. "Screening facilities help military officials determine if an individual should be detained further and assists military forces with timely information vital to ongoing operations." Whitman would not say who ran the facility or provide any details. A DIA spokesperson declined to comment, as did the White House, which referred questions to the Pentagon."In all our facilities the standard is humane treatment and all DoD detention facilities are required to be compliant with Common Article III, The Detainee Treatment Act, the Executive Order signed by the President last year, and the DoD Detainee Directive and the Army Field Manual," Whitman said.

Although the CIA's enhanced interrogation program was investigated and a Justice Department prosecutor is currently reviewing those files, the Defense Department's parallel activities have been given little scrutiny. To this day, the Department denies the existence of a "special access program," codenamed "Copper Green," which allegedly authorized military interrogators to use extremely harsh methods, including the infliction of sexual humiliation, on high-value terrorists.

Only about 200 military and civilian personnel were aware of Copper Green's existence before it was disclosed by the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh. The CIA's program, known internally by the acronym "GST," has been discontinued. Although "Copper Green" was disbanded, the Defense Department's detainee affairs section has set up a new special access program under which the rules for battlefield interrogations are established. It is classified Top Secret.

Bagram is in the middle of a major expansion, and the DIA facility is being renovated, officials said.

Harward, a former special operations squadron commander, has said he hopes to turn the base over to the Afghan military by 2011.

Under a directive issued by the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, those captured on the battlefield can be detained for only 96 hours unless they are deemed to possess intelligence value. In practice, military units can unofficially transfer detainees they pick up to other field  units before they arrive at interrogation sites, giving American and Afghan interrogators more time to ferret out useful information.

According to other officials, personnel at the facility are supposed to follow the Army Field Manual's guidelines for interrogations. When he took office, President Obama signed an executive order banning the Central Intelligence Agency and the military from using techniques not listed in the manual. But he has a task force studying whether the expressly manual-approved tactics are sufficient.

However, under secret authorization, the DIA interrogators use methods detailed in an appendix to the Field Manual, Appendix M, which spells out "restricted" interrogation techniques.

Under certain circumstances, interrogators can deprive prisoners of sleep (four hours at a time, for up to 30 days), to confuse their senses, and to keep them separate from the rest of the prison population. The Red Cross is now notified if the captives are kept at the facility for longer than two weeks.

When interrogators are using Appendix M measures, the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, Gen.James Clapper (Ret.) is the man on the hook. Detainees designated as prisoners of war cannot be subjected to Appendix M measures.

The DCHC is a relatively new organization. It has several branches and has absorbed staff from the the now largely disbanded Strategic Support Branch, which provided CIA-like intelligence services to ground combat units. The DCHC also performs some of the work that the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), which was accused of spying on American political groups, used to do. Many of the staff, civilian and military, as well as many contractors, previously worked with CIFA. 

Defense officials said that the White House is kept appraised of the methods used by interrogators at the site. The reason why the Red Cross hasn't been invited to tour it, officials said, was because the U.S. does not believe it to be a detention facility, classifying it instead as an intelligence gathering facility.

A Defense official said that the agency's inspector general had launched an internal investigation into reports in the Washington Post that several teenagers were beaten by the interrogators, but Whitman disputes this.

When the Obama Administration took over, it forbade the DIA from keeping prisoners in the facility longer than 30 days, although it is not clear how that dictum is enforced.  It is also not clear how much Congress knows about the DIA's interrogation procedures, which have largely escaped public scrutiny.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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