Last week the AP published a rather breathless piece titled "AP Exclusive: US military holds terror suspects in secret jails for weeks without charge." That certainly got my attention. From the title, one would assume that the black sites somehow had returned, that the United States was back in the business of secret detention for al Qaeda suspects captured in various places around the world. But that's not at all what the story is about. The story is about the war in Afghanistan, where the United States has operated detention facilities for more or less an entire decade. I find it remarkable that anyone would think it surprising that this detention system includes not just a long-term, back-end facility, but also short-term facilities at which persons might be held prior to either release or transfer to the long-term facility (this is, after all, precisely how things worked in Iraq). What would have been interesting is if AP reported that (i) the ICRC was being denied access to these detainees, (ii) that U.S. personnnel were using interrogation techniques other than those contained in the U.S. Army Field Manual, or (iii) that persons captured outside Afghanistan were being taken to any U.S.-controlled facilities. But the story makes no such claims. Indeed, as to the ICRC, those who read far enough into the story discover the following:
International Red Cross ICRC spokesman Simon Schorno would not comment on the JSOC or conventional forces detention facilities, but confirmed the group “has access to internment, screening, and transit facilities under the control of the Department of Defense.”
Schorno added that the Red Cross “has a transparent relationship with the Department of Defense and is satisfied with progress made as regards access to detention facilities.”
This very illuminating interview by Adam Serwer is also a useful corrective to the impression created by the AP piece. In it, Adam asks all the right questions of Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First, who appears to agree that there is no basis for believing that non-Field Manual methods are being used or that persons from outside Afghanistan are being secreted away in these facilities (Daphne does fairly draw attention to important questions regarding the extent to which we should be comfortable with the methods of interrogation that remain available under the Field Manual).
Let me be clear. I'm not suggesting journalists or advocacy groups should pay no mind to such facilities. But insofar as the AP story implies the illegitimacy of even having such facilities (note the title's pointed reference to the absence of criminal charges for military detainees held in the war in Afghanistan), I find it deeply misguided. (Note: I appreciate that some take the view that all non-crimminal detention in Afghanistan is unlawful. That's not a view I share, obviously).