It all began in Afghanistan (the War on Terror, of course). It was there as well that, in late 2001, the Bush administration first “took the gloves off,” a phrase its top officials then loved to use. So the first torture and abuse of prisoners, including the use of dogs to intimidate, took place there and only then migrated to Guantanamo in Cuba and Abu Ghraib in Iraq. By 2004, the US was already operating approximately two dozen off-the-grid prisons in Afghanistan and a report in the British Guardian could speak of the US prison system there as “the hub of a global network of detention centers.” It included a notorious CIA-run secret Afghan prison nicknamed “the Salt Pit.” The first killing of prisoners by Americans occurred at our prison at Bagram Air Base, the huge former Soviet base that became a focus of American military activities. One of the nastier spots on the planet for many years, Bagram was, as Karen Greenberg, author of The Least Worst Place, Guantanamo’s First 100 Days, has termed it, “the missing prison” (at a time when all attention was focused on Guantanamo). It remains George W. Bush’s unmentioned living legacy to Barack Obama.
Bagram itself theoretically cleaned up its act—with $60 million invested in a full-scale facelift in 2009 and so, as Anand Gopal reported at TomDispatch, “the mistreatment of prisoners [in Afghanistan] began to shift to the little-noticed Field Detention Sites,” a series of prison “holding areas” on US military bases around the country. To this day, the US still operates a remarkably extensive, essentially off-the-grid prison system there. It’s not completely clear who is in all of these prisons, and reports are not encouraging. The BBC, for instance, recently found nine witnesses it considered credible who were ready to testify to abuse—in the period since Barack Obama entered the Oval Office—at a secret prison nicknamed “the Black Hole,” also at Bagram. (“The US military has denied the existence of a secret detention site and promised to look into allegations.”)
Even more ominously, the first reports have appeared in the US press indicating that the Obama administration may once again actually expand the use of Bagram to include the interrogation and incarceration for indefinite periods of new prisoners, wherever taken, in the Global War on Terror, whatever it may now be called, and is actually drawing up classified guidelines to that effect. As Greenberg, executive director of the Center on Law and Security at the NYU School of Law and a TomDispatch regular, indicates, Bagram could turn out to be only one of two future American Guantanamos. Yes, we can! (By the way, check out the latest TomCast audio interview in which Greenberg discusses the quagmire of US detention practices by clicking here or, if you prefer to download it to your iPod, here.)