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Aerial view of the Parwan Detention Facility (PDF) in 2009.

The Parwan Detention Facility (PDF), also called the Bagram Theater Internment Facility, is a United States-run prison located next to Bagram Airfield in the Parwan Province of Afghanistan. It was formerly known as the Bagram Collection Point. While initially intended as a temporary location, this facility now has lasted longer and accumulated more detainees than the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.[1] As of early June 2011 the Obama administration held 1700 prisoners at the military base while there were previously about 600 prisoner under the Bush administration. None of the prisoners received POW status.[2]

The treatment of inmates at the facility is under scrutiny since two Afghan detainees died in the 2002 Bagram torture and prisoner abuse case. These incidents led to prisoner abuse charges against several American troops. Concerns about lengthy detentions also have drawn comparisons with U.S. detention centers in Guantanamo Bay on Cuba and Abu Graib in Iraq. Part of the internment facility is called the Black jail.[2][3]

Physical site[]

Construction of the new detention facility

Inside view of a cell after completion in 2009

Inside the multi-bed room

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan the Red Army built Bagram Airfield.[4][5][6] The airfield included large hangars that fell into disrepair after the Soviets left.

When the US military and their allies ousted the Taliban, US forces took possession of the former Soviet base. The US military didn't need the volume of hangar space, so a detention facility was built inside the large unused hangars. Like the first facilities built at Guantanamo's Camp X-Ray, the cells were built of wire mesh. However, only captives held in solitary confinement have a cell of their own.[7] The other captives share larger open cells with other captives.

According to some accounts, captives were provided with shared buckets to use as toilets, and did not have access to running water.[8] Although captives share their cells with dozens of other captives, there are also reports that they are not allowed to speak with one another, or even to look at one another.[7]

During an interview on PBS, Chris Hogan, a former interrogator at Bagram, described the prisoner's cells in early 2002.[9]

"I can't speak to what the conditions may be like now. But in my tenure, the prison population lived in an abandoned Soviet warehouse. The warehouse had a cement floor and it was a huge square-footage area.

"On the floor of that, what must have been some sort of an airplane hangar, six prison cages were erected, which were divided by concertina wire ... Those prison cages had a wooden floor, a platform built above the cement floor of the hangar. Each prisoner had a bunch of blankets, a small mat, and in the back of each one of those cages was a makeshift toilet, the same type of toilet that the soldiers used, which was a 50-gallon drum, halved with diesel fuel put in the bottom of it and a wooden kind of seat to that platform ... It's very similar, incidentally, to the conditions that the soldiers lived in; almost identical."

According to an article by Tim Golden, published in the January 7, 2008 issue of the New York Times, captives in the Bagram facility were still being housed in large communal pens.[10]

Permanent replacement facilities for the original temporary facilities constructed in 2001 were completed in September 2009.[11] According to The Nation transfer of the 700 captives to the new facilities will begin in late November 2009 completed by the end of 2009. Brigadier General Mark Martins, Bagram's commandant, told reporters that the facility had always met international and domestic standards.

Although the new facility is near the previous facility, it DoD sources sometimes refer to it as the Parwan facility, as if it had no link to the original Bagram facility.[12]

Torture and prisoner abuse[]

At least two deaths have been verified in the last decade: captives are known to have been beaten to death by GIs manning the facility, in December 2002.[13]

Captives who were confined to both Bagram and the Guantanamo Bay detention camp have recounted that, while in Bagram, they were warned that if they did not cooperate more fully, they would be sent to a worse site in Cuba.[14][15] Captives who have compared the two camps have said that conditions were far worse in Bagram.[16]

In May 2010, nine Afghan former detainees reported to the ICRC that they had been held in a separate facility (known as the black jail) where they had been subject to isolation in cold cells, sleep deprivation, and other forms of torture. The U.S. military denies there is a separate facility for detainees.[17]

In early 2012, Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered that control of the Parwan Detention Facility be handed over to Afghan authorities after some inmates complained of being strip searched and put in solitary confinement.[18][19][20]

High profile escapes[]

When the GIs implicated in the December 2002 homicides were about to face court martial, four prisoners escaped from Bagram. At least one of these was a prosecution witness, and was thus unable to testify.[5][21]

Legal status of detainees[]

The George W. Bush administration avoided using the label "prisoner of war" when discussing the detainees held at Bagram, preferring to immediately classify them as "unlawful enemy combatants". This way, it is not necessary under the Geneva Conventions to have a competent tribunal determine their classification. (In previous conflicts such as the Vietnam War, Army Regulation 190-8 Tribunals determined the status of prisoners of war.)

The administration also initially argued that these detainees could not access the US legal system. However, the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Rasul v. Bush confirmed that captives in US jurisdiction did indeed have the right to access US courts. Rasul v. Bush determined that the Executive Branch did not have the authority, under the United States Constitution, to suspend the right for detainees to submit writs of habeas corpus.

Another consequence of the Supreme Court's ruling in Rasul v. Bush was the establishment of Combatant Status Review Tribunals to review and confirm the information that initially led each captive to be classified as an enemy combatant. The Department of Defense (DoD) convened these tribunals for every captive in Guantanamo Bay, but they did not apply to Bagram. The current legal process governing the status of Bagram captives is the Enemy Combatant Review Board, described by Eliza Griswold in The New Republic:

Prisoners don't even have the limited access to lawyers available to prisoners in Guantánamo. Nor do they have the right to Combatant Status Review Tribunals, which Guantánamo detainees won in the 2004 Supreme Court ruling in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. Instead, if a combat commander chooses, he can convene an Enemy Combatant Review Board (ECRB), at which the detainee has no right to a personal advocate, no chance to speak in his own defense, and no opportunity to review the evidence against him. The detainee isn't even allowed to attend. And, thanks to such limited access to justice, many former detainees say they have no idea why they were either detained or released.

On February 20, 2009, the Department of Justice under President Barack Obama announced it would continue the policy that detainees in Afghanistan could not challenge their detention in US courts.[22]

On April 2, 2009 US District Court Judge John D. Bates ruled that those Bagram captives who had been transferred from outside Afghanistan could use habeas corpus.[23]

The BBC quoted Ramzi Kassem, lawyer for one of the men:

"Today, a US federal judge ruled that our government cannot simply kidnap people and hold them beyond the law."

The Obama administration appealed the ruling. A former Guantanamo Bay defense attorney, Neal Katyal, led the government's case.[24][25]

The decision was reversed on May 21, 2010, the appeals court unanimously ruling that Bagram detainees have no right to habeas corpus hearings.[26]

There is a reason we have never allowed enemy prisoners detained overseas in an active war zone to sue in federal court for their release. It simply makes no sense and would be the ultimate act of turning the war into a crime.

— Senator Lindsey Graham

Captives access to video link[]

On January 15, 2008 the International Committee of the Red Cross and the US military set up a pilot project to allow certain well behaved prisoners not in solitary confinement in Bagram to communicate with visitors over a videolink.[27] The ICRC will provide captives' families with a subsidy to cover their travel expenses to the video-link's studio.

General Douglas Stone's report on the Bagram captives[]

According to National Public Radio a General in the United States Marine Corps Reserve recently filed a 700-page report on the Bagram internment facility and its captives.[28][29] According to senior officials who have been briefed by Major General Douglas Stone, he reports, "up to 400 of the 600 prisoners at the U.S.-run prison at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan have done nothing wrong and should be released." According to Daphne Eviatar, writing in the Washington Independent, Stone recommended that the USA should try to rehabilitate any genuine enemies it holds, rather than simply imprisoning them.

General Stanley McChrystal's assessment[]

According to Chris Sands, writing in The National, in a leaked report General Stanley McChrystal wrote: “Committed Islamists are indiscriminately mixed with petty criminals and sex offenders, and they are using the opportunity to radicalise and indoctrinate them ... hundreds are held without charge or without a defined way ahead”.[30]

According to The Guardian McChrystal wrote:[31] “There are more insurgents per square foot in corrections facilities than anywhere else in Afghanistan. Unchecked, Taliban/al-Qaida leaders patiently co-ordinate and plan, unconcerned with interference from prison personnel or the military.”


According to Tim Golden of the New York Times, in 2008, the number of people held in Bagram had doubled since 2004, while the number of people held in Guantanamo had been halved.[10]

A graphic published to accompany Golden's article showed approximately 300 captives in Bagram, and approximately 600 in Guantanamo, in May 2004, and showed the reverse in December 2007.[32]

On August 23, 2009 the United States Department of Defense reversed its policy on revealing the names of its captives in Afghanistan and Iraq, including the Bagram Theater Internment Facility.[33][34] and announced that their names would be released to the International Committee of the Red Cross. In January 2010, the names of 645 detainees were released. This list was prompted by a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed in September 2009 by the American Civil Liberties Union, whose lawyers had also demanded detailed information about conditions, rules and regulations.[35][36]

The number of people imprisoned sharply increased under the Obama administration reaching 1700 in June 2011.[2]

Reports of new Bagram review boards[]

On September 12, 2009 it was widely reported that unnamed officials told Eric Schmitt of the New York Times that the Obama administration was going to introduce new procedures that would allow the captives held in Bagram, and elsewhere in Afghanistan, to have their detention reviewed.[37][38][39][40][41] Josh Gerstein, of Politico, reported Tina Foster, director of the International Justice Network, and a lawyer who represents four Bagram captives, was critical of the new rules:

“These sound almost exactly like the rules the Bush Administration crafted for Guanatmamo that were struck down by the Supreme Court or at least found to be an inadequate substitute for judicial review. They’re adopting this thing that [former Vice President] Cheney and his lot dreamt up out of whole cloth. To adopt Gitmo-like procedures seems to me like sliding in the wrong direction.”

According to Radio Free Europe, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director, Sam Zia Zarifi, paraphrasing Major General Douglas M. Stone's report on the USA's detentions in Afghanistan: "pointed out that the lack of a legal structure for Bagram means that it is undermining the rule of law in Afghanistan and it has caused a lot of resentment among Afghans."[42]

US handover of Bagram prison to Afghan government[]

The U.S. began detention operations at Bagram Air Field in early 2002. For several years, prisoners were kept at a former Soviet aircraft machine plant converted into a lockup. In 2009, the U.S. opened a new detention facility next door named Parwan Detention Facility.[43][44] An Memorandum of Understanding to transfer control of the Parwan Detention Facility[45] from the United States to Afghanistan was signed on March 9, 2012.[46][47][48] According to Al Jazeera the agreement "will put an Afghan general in charge of Parwan [...] within days, [...] but will also give a six-month window to gradually transfer detainees to Afghan oversight. According to the document, the US will continue to provide logistical support for 12 months and a joint US-Afghan commission will decide on any detainee releases until a more permanent pact is adopted."[48][48] The memorandum of understanding shifts also the responsibility for all U.S. detention facilities in the country to Afghanistan.[45][49] Under the agreement, Afghan authorities will need to advise the United States of plans to release any prisoners and "consider favourably" objections if the Americans consider such inmates could engage in "terrorist activity".[50] A further clause provides for a committee, made up of the Afghan defense minister and the commander of the American military in Afghanistan, to decide jointly on releases.[50] US officials would also remain at the prison to provide advisory, technical and logistical support for a year until March 2012.[51][52]

With the agreement signed on between on March 9 Afghanistan and the United States began a six-month transition from American to Afghan control of the Parwan Detention Facility north of Kabul and just outside Bagram, the largest US military base in the country.[51] The US military handed control of the prison housing more than 3,000 Taliban fighters and terrorism suspects to the Afghan authorities in small ceremony on September 10, 2012,[44][53][54][55] at which 16 prisoners, all wearing matching gray sweaters, were released.[43][44][56] Army Col. Robert M. Taradash, who has overseen the prison, represented coalition forces.[57] "We transferred more than 3,000 Afghan detainees into your custody ... and ensured that those who would threaten the partnership of Afghanistan and coalition forces will not return to the battlefield," said Col Robert Taradash, the only US official at the ceremony.[44] "Our Afghan security forces are well trained and we are happy that today they are exercising their capability in taking the responsibility of prisoners independently and guarding the prisoners," said acting Defence Minister Enayatullah Nazari.[44] "We are taking the responsibility from foreign forces."[44] "Now, the Bagram prison is converted to one of Afghanistan's regular prisons where the innocents will be freed and the rest of the prisoners will be sentenced according to the laws of Afghanistan," a statement by Afghan President Hamid Karzai said, who didn't attend the ceremony.[43][57] No one from the American Embassy or the State Department was present. Also top American commanders were absent on the ceremony.[58] American officials say the transfer agreement calls for the Afghan government to continue to hold some detainees even if there is not a formal legal case against them, reviewing their cases administratively rather than judicially. The Americans say it is impossible to build legal cases against all prisoners arrested in battlefield conditions. Afghan news media reported that a dispute over this practice led to a falling-out between Karzai and General John R. Allen, the American military commander in Afghanistan, over the weekend and apparently prompted the downgraded American presence at the ceremony.[58]

The transition of prisons from American to Afghanistan control means prisoners leave their cells in one of the remaining American-controlled buildings and are taken to new cells in a building controlled by Afghans, but where American personnel will still be present in an advisory role until at least March 2013 under the March 9, 2012 agreement. An Afghan committee sorts the detainees into two groups: One group awaits criminal prosecution, and the other will be referred to a review board, which evaluates them and recommends whether to keep holding them without trial as wartime detainees. As of September 5, 2012 638 detaines have been approved for criminal prosecution, and 963 have been referred to the review board.[52] The United States military will maintain control over dozens of foreign detainees in Bagram for the indefinite future.[52] “If we keep these people with us in this current situation and deal with them, this will create more problems for us,” General Ghulam Farouk, the Afghan official who runs the Afghan-controlled portions of Parwan, said. “Therefore it is better for the Americans to keep them.”[52] Further, although thousands of Afghan detainees have already been turned over, the United States will continue to hold and screen newly captured Afghans for a time, ensuring continued American involvement in detention and interrogation activities.[52]

Since the Memorandum's signing the U.S. has transferred 3,082 detainees[54] to Afghan control according to Afghan Army General Ghulam Farouk. He said on September 10, 2012 that the U.S. was in the process of transferring the remaining 30 inmates picked up before the memorandum was signed plus another 600 captured after the signing. But a few weeks ago, the U.S. stopped all transfers.[43] A coalition official told CNN the United States is holding on to several Afghan detainees because of concerns about whether Afghan authorities will properly handle their cases and under what circumstances they might be released. The U.S. also is keeping several prisoners of other nationalities who were not part of the agreement the source said.[59] "Some 99 percent of the detainees captured before 9 March have already been transferred to Afghan authority, but we have paused the transfer of the remaining detainees until our concerns are met," said Jamie Graybeal, a spokesman for the U.S.-led military coalition.[43][57] Graybeal would not describe the concerns, but a report released in early September 2012 by the New York-based Open Society Foundations said the rift was over whether the Afghans will have a so-called "internment" system that allows some detainees to be held without charge or trial. The U.S. has been holding detainees in internment at Bagram for years. Although the Afghan government agreed to embrace an internment system by signing the accord in March, some top Afghan officials and legal experts contend it violates the Afghan constitution, the report said. Moreover, Karzai himself is opposed to administrative detention (Detaines are held without access to lawyers, public trials or other legal rights[50]), according to the report. The U.S. is now worried that the Afghan government will discontinue internment and either release dangerous detainees or forward their cases to the loosely run Afghan judicial system, which is tainted by corruption and secrecy, the group said.[43] "There are concerns on the U.S. side about division in the Afghan government over internment and that it is not constitutional," said Rachel Reid, a senior policy adviser on Afghanistan for the Open Society Foundations. "The basic concern is that if they don't have internment, they will be released."[43] On the flip side of the legal issue, some Afghan legal experts are worried about Afghan officials abusing any authority to hold detainees without trial. "Consider the fact that even our regular laws are ignored by powerful people," said Abdul Qawi Afzali of the Legal Aid Organization Afghanistan. "What will happen when you give them the actual, legal power to detain people like this law does?"[43]

The US military still wants to run a section of the jail and is not handing over hundreds of detainees, saying it has the right to hold insurgents caught on the battlefield said the BBC's Jonathan Beale in Kabul.[44] They include individuals from Pakistan, Tunisia, Yemen and detainees transferred to Bagram from other wars, such as Iraq. The U.S. will retain custody of these non-Afghan prisoners until their fate is addressed in another agreement between the Afghan and U.S. governments.[43] Jason Ditz from ANTIWAR.COM noted that the retention of a portion of the Parwan Detention facility[44][52][54] will allow the US to keep detainees there more or less forever, but will create a PR problem for the Afghan government.[60]

The United States are not handing over hundreds of detainees saying it has the right to hold insurgents caught on the battlefield, but privately the US is concerned that some high-value inmates could be released if they are handed over according to the BBC's Jonathan Beale.[43][44] These include about 50 foreigners not covered by the handover agreement signed in March 2012.[44][58][59] Media commentators in Afghanistan questioned whether the Kabul government will be able to maintain security at Bagram prison after that the United States has handed over control.[61] An editorial in independent Hasht-e Sobh newspaper noted: "The government has not had a good track record in maintaining inmates and prisons in recent years ... The government has repeatedly called the Taliban their brothers and Taliban fighters detained on suicide-attack charges have been repeatedly released without trial."[61]

Afghanistan's president Karzai has accused on 18 November 2012 US forces of continuing to capture and detain Afghans in violation of the handover agreement signed earlier in 2012. Karzai decried the continued arrest of Afghans by US forces and said some detainees were still being held by US troops even though Afghan judges have ruled that they should be released.[62] During a meeting with Afghan President Karzai on January 11, 2013 U.S. President Obama and his counterpart agreed that the United States would hand over full control of Afghan prisoners and prisons to Afghanistan,[63][64]

On March 9, 2013, the ceremony where the American military was to hand over full control of the prison to Afghanistan was canceled. There was no official reason given.[65]

On March 25, 2013, the formal hand-over of the facility was made public. In a statement it was said that the hand-over followed after a week of negotiations between US and Afghan officials "which includes assurances that inmates who "pose a danger" to Afghans and international forces will continue to be detained under Afghan law"[66]

See also[]


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