NEW YORK, NY -- March 30 -- Growing numbers of detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan are putting stress on permanent U.S. detention facilities and raising demands on temporary detention facilities where conditions are poor and abuse has been frequent, Human Rights First said today in a new report called Behind the Wire.
"The numbers we're detaining now are essentially where they were in 2003 when we saw the worst torture and abuse occurring in U.S. custody overseas," said Deborah Pearlstein, Director of the U.S. Law and Security Program at Human Rights First. "It was in part these stresses on capacity that the Pentagon's own investigators cited as contributing to the gross abuses the Abu Ghraib pictures revealed," Pearlstein said.
In Iraq, the United States is now detaining a record 10,200 people, more than double the number held five months ago. The number of detainees held in Afghanistan also appears to be on the rise. Individuals detained in Afghanistan by U.S. forces rose from 350 in June of 2004 to 500 in January of 2005. No numbers on Afghanistan are available since January 2005 since the Department of Defense has introduced a policy of classifying information related to U.S. detentions in Afghanistan, including the number of detainees held and the specific legal basis for their detentions.
"One of the concerning developments we're seeing as U.S. detention operations in these places mature is a trend toward greater secrecy, not less," Pearlstein said. Behind the Wire updates a report Human Rights First issued in June 2004 on the scope and nature of U.S. global detention operations in the "war on terrorism."
"(T)he scrutiny of the past nine months has still failed to produce full answers to many of the most basic questions posed in our original report," the Report says. "Far from diminishing in importance as U.S. missions in Afghanistan and Iraq mature, these questions are becoming more urgent as U.S. detention operations appear to be picking up permanence and pace."
Among the effects of the overall increase in numbers the report notes is the continued reliance on makeshift "transient" detention facilities - which often are nothing more than a series of trailers surrounded by barbed wire. Interviews conducted by Human Rights First with now-released detainees held by U.S. authorities in such facilities reveal that conditions there are often grossly inadequate. Many of the worst alleged abuses of detainees, including deaths in custody, have occurred in these facilities, where visits from the Red Cross are limited.
Behind the Wire also uncovers information on the nature and scope of U.S. detention operations, concluding that the overall system is more expansive than previously believed. For example, the report discusses a previously undisclosed facility in Peshawar, Pakistan that was discovered by Human Rights First through a series of FOIA requests in the past year.