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Originally published May 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 17, 2008 at 12:28 AM

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U.S. plans $60 million Afghan prison on military base

The Pentagon is proceeding with plans to build a new, 40-acre detention complex on the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan, officials...

The New York Times

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is proceeding with plans to build a new, 40-acre detention complex on the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan, officials said, in a stark acknowledgment that the United States is likely to continue to hold prisoners overseas for years to come.

The proposed complex would replace the cavernous, makeshift U.S. prison on the Bagram military base north of Kabul, which is now typically packed with about 630 prisoners, compared with the 270 held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The Bush administration had planned to transfer a large majority of the prisoners to Afghan custody, in a U.S.-financed, high-security prison outside Kabul to be guarded by Afghan soldiers.

But U.S. officials now concede that the new Afghan-run prison cannot absorb all the Afghans now detained by the United States, much less the waves of new prisoners from the escalating fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban.

When the Bagram Theater Internment Facility was set up in early 2002, it became a primary site for screening prisoners captured in the fighting. Harsh interrogation methods and sleep deprivation were used widely, and two Afghan detainees died there in December 2002, after being repeatedly struck by U.S. soldiers.

Conditions and treatment have improved markedly since then, but hundreds of Afghans and other men are still held in wire-mesh pens surrounded by coils of razor wire. There are only minimal areas for the prisoners to exercise, and kitchen, shower and bathroom space is also inadequate.

Faced with that, U.S. officials said they wanted to replace the Bagram prison, a converted aircraft hangar. In its place, the United States will build what officials described as a more modern and humane detention center that would accommodate about 600 detainees -- or as many as 1,100 in a surge -- and cost more than $60 million.

The new center at Bagram will incorporate some of the lessons learned by the United States in Iraq. The head of detainee operations in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, who traveled to Bagram in February to assess conditions there, has encouraged prison officials to build ties to tribal leaders, families and communities, said a congressional official.

The population at Bagram began to swell after administration officials halted the flow of prisoners to Guantánamo in September 2004. At the same time, the population of detainees began to rise with the resurgence of the Taliban.

Military personnel who know both Bagram and Guantánamo describe the Afghan site, 40 miles north of Kabul, as far more spartan. Some detainees have been held without charge for more than five years, officials said. As of April, about 10 juveniles were held at Bagram, according to a recent U.S. report to the U.N.

Also

Trial delayed: A military judge at Guantánamo Bay Friday postponed the first war-crimes tribunal for Osama bin Laden's former driver, saying he wants to wait until the Supreme Court rules by June 30 on the right of detainees to challenge their confinement in civil courts. Navy Capt. Keith Allred ruled the trial for Salim Ahmed Hamdan, scheduled to start June 2, should be delayed until July 21.

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Violence: A series of clashes, airstrikes and bomb blasts left 10 militants and four civilians killed in Afghanistan, officials said today.

Envoy freed: The brother of Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan says the envoy has been released, three months after he was kidnapped near the border between the two countries. Tariq Azizuddin disappeared along Feb. 11 along with his driver and bodyguard.

On a video aired April 19 on an Arab satellite channel, Azizuddin said Taliban militants had kidnapped them.

But his brother Tahir Azizuddin said today authorities had told the family the ambassador had been released and was in good health.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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