Bagram's New Black Hole

April 21, 2010

Last week the BBC reported that it had interviewed nine Afghan detainees who claimed to have been held in a secret detention facility on Bagram Air Base where they suffered abuse at the hands of US personnel.

The detainees were held in a hitherto unidentified detention facility called “The Black Hole” by their American guards. Most of the detainees said they had been beaten at the time of their arrest – one was missing a row of teeth.

In the prison lights were kept on in the cells 24 hours a day and the constant hum machinery seemed designed to prevent detainees from sleeping. One detainee, Mirwais, claimed that he was made to dance by the guards every time he needed to use the bathroom.

There are several shocking aspects to this story. First, in all nine cases the abuse reportedly occurred after President Obama issued his Executive Order Ensuring Lawful Interrogations. The military denies the existence of the facility.

Second, it would appear that sleep deprivation is being used as deliberate tactic to soften up detainees in contravention of the Army Field Manual on Interrogations, which requires that detainees be allowed 4 hours sleeps in every 24 hour period.

Third, and perhaps most disturbing of all, is the complete lack of interest that the US media has taken in the story.  On the face of it the BBC report seems credible, meriting further investigation at the very least, but the silence has been deafening.

America seems to have lost its appetite for self-examination and, by refusing to investigate and punish the systemic use of torture by the Bush administration, President Obama has contributed to the culture of impunity that allows such abuses to flourish in the field.

The President made a commitment to run an anti-torture administration and now he has reached a moment of truth.  Apparently not everyone got the memo. He cannot turn the page on the BBC’s story. This is happening on his watch.

President Obama must order an immediate inquiry into these allegations. If offences have been committed criminal charges must follow.

The Commander-in-Chief sets the tone for the armed forces and actions speak louder than words. Only by acting decisively in the face of these new revelations can he make his repugnance at such tactics clear.