by Joe Scarry
When I was growing up, we were giving a very searing image of what was wrong with the Soviet Union — and, by contrast, what was supposed to be right about the United States — by a book by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. “The Gulag Archipelago” referred to the chain of prisons throughout the U.S.S.R to which enemies of the state were sent, and from which they never returned. You didn’t have to actually read the book to get the point; the title said it all.
After several years of working with the film about Guantanamo — “The Response” — I’ve become aware that the U.S. also engages in the same practice — setting up places to which enemies of the state are sent, and from which they never return. It’s called “indefinite detention.” And the highly visibly symbol of Guantanamo is just the tip of the iceberg of a chain of prisons and black sites around the world. A huge number of those prisons are in Afghanistan.
We all know the name “Bagram” — the detention site controlled by the U.S. in Afghanistan. But much of the detention of people in Afghanistan is a joint undertaking by the U.S. in combination with the Afghanistan government, which operates the actual sites. As reported in the New York Times, a recent investigation “found evidence of routine human rights abuses and torture at 16 detention centers” in Afghanistan. That’s out of 47 detention facilities, in 22 provinces, that were reviewed. It is these detention centers to which the U.S. consigns prisoners.
(And in case you thought Bagram itself was closing, see “U.S. Super-Sizing Afghan Jail It Promised to Abandon”)
Beyond the question of proven abuse in these sites is the fundamental question: who are the detainees and what are the terms of their detention? Are they civilians? Or P.O.W.s? Or something in-between? Do they have a future? Or is their future indefinite detention?
What is the total number of prisoners held in the detention archipelago set up by the U.S. in Afghanistan? Five thousand? Ten thousand? More?
The U.S. (and its NATO partners) will not be done in Afghanistan until it has undone the damage that it has done by filling an archipelago of prisons — hidden from sight — with the “enemies” that the U.S. wants to make disappear.
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The ARCHIPELAGO is just a part of the larger problem: the urgent need to DEMILITARIZE Afghanistan!
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