The growing American gulag

A new report says the number of prisoners in U.S. custody in Iraq has doubled since October -- many of them held in nothing more than "trailers surrounded by barbed wire."

By Mark Follman
Published March 31, 2005 1:45AM (EST)

The number of prisoners held by the U.S. in Iraq has doubled since last October, according to a report released Wednesday by watchdog group Human Rights First. And it's not just the rising numbers there and elsewhere that are troubling: The Bush administration has grown even more secretive about its operations, the reports says -- while the overburdened detention system is ripe for more prisoner abuse. U.S. detention operations, the report adds, appear to be picking up in both "pace" and in "permanence."

"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.

"Among the effects of the overall increase in numbers 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."

The report also details a previously secret U.S. detention facility in Peshawar, Pakistan, exposed through a series of FOIA requests from the past year.

Mounting evidence of secret U.S. prisons around the globe, and of U.S. complicity in torture by foreign regimes... one hell of a way to fulfill President Bush's high-flying vision of bringing the "untamed fire of freedom" to "the darkest corners of our world."

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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