Friday, January 6, 2012

Transitioning Detention

President Karzai is in the news, calling for responsibility for detention of prisoners to be turned over to Afghanistan in a month.  This provokes a couple of reactions and then a realization:
  1. Given how leaky Afghan prisons are (two big jail breaks in Kandahar at the least), it is not clear that the Afghan government has the capacity to hold to folks (not to mention releasing folks that might just not deserve to be released).
  2. Given that Afghan wardens/guards have been suspected of widespread abuse, perhaps Afghanistan is not quite ready yet.
The realization: hasn't this mostly happened already?  NATO countries long ago agreed, with various arrangements for monitoring, to hand over any and all detainees with 96 hours.  Yes, countries (that would include Canada) would stop handing them over on occasion when they lost confidence (ok, really lost confidence) in how the detainees would be handled. And that has been the case for all of NATO since last summer.  Ok, there is one major prison run by the Americans, but it is new (so it is not leaky nor dangerous) and has been monitored.  Whatever violations of due process there are not that different from what is going on in the Afghan prisons (not saying that is swell) and little abuse (which the Afghan prisons cannot claim). 

Of course, the cause of this is pretty transparent: "The language in Thursday’s statement about Afghan sovereignty and the timing of the announcement prompted speculation that the move was politically motivated."  Karzai is in the middle of negotiations with the US over a long term strategic partnership, with detention and night raids being the key issues: Karzai wants Afghanistan to have complete detention responsibility and the end of the night raids, the US wants to be able to put the folks it continues to collect in raids somewhere.  So, this sudden demand is part of a bargaining process.  Which makes sense since he no longer has to outbid anyone for re-election for a while. 

The larger problem remains--the US and NATO want to get out of Afghanistan in part or in whole by the end of 2014 and transfer responsibility for everything (except paying for the whole enchilada) to the Afghans.  But fast does not mean a job well done (a key distinction between my wife and I on chores around the house--I move fast, she gets the job done well but slowly). 

The funny thing is that the Canadian effort to train the guards at the Saraposa prison seemed to have worked really well.  The guards were far less abusive.  However, the training did not focus so much on keeping the prisoners in the prison.  So much to do in so little time, so you focus on some stuff (the stuff that gets heaps of attention back home) and less on other stuff.  I have no doubt that a fast transition of detention would not be good for the prisoners that the Afghan government manages to keep behind bars but probably really cool for those that get out through the front gates or in the tunnels under them.

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