Will McChrystal Testify About the ‘Black Jail’?

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Monday, November 30, 2009 at 9:03 am

I reported yesterday that Gen. Stanley McChrystal will probably testify next week about Afghanistan war strategy. It’ll be interesting to see if he faces questions about the so-called “black jail.”

Over the weekend, both The New York Times and The Washington Post reported on an apparently undisclosed adjunct to the prison facility at Bagram Air Field called the “black jail” by Afghans who told human-rights groups they were detained there. According to the papers, the black jail is run by Special Operations Forces, and accounts of it stretch back to early 2008 – back when McChrystal was in charge of the Joint Special Operations Command’s (JSOC) operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I emailed McChrystal’s current command to find out what it would do about the accounts of the black jail. The response I got, from Air Force Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis, a spokesman for McChrystal: “Our intent over time is to transition detention facilities currently under our control to Afghan control.  It’s our policy to treat detainees humanely.” I did not get any specific acknowledgment of the facility’s existence, but I also didn’t get a denial.

Despite being commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, McChrystal does not fully command JSOC forces, a cumbersome command relationship that McChrystal’s August strategy review discussed mitigating. But McChrystal comes out of the JSOC community, giving him more influence over JSOC operations than most theater commanders. And so does his new chief of detention operations, Vice Adm. Robert Harward, who was McChrystal’s deputy at JSOC. What’s more, McChrystal is the first commander in the Afghanistan war to treat the perspectives of the Afghan people as “strategically decisive,” as he put it in his June confirmation hearings.

Those hearings only briefly dealt with questions about McChrystal’s possible knowledge about JSOC detainee abuses in U.S. detentions.  “I do not and have not condone the mistreatment of detainees and I never will,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee then. Since the general has repeatedly emphasized a need to respect the human rights of Afghan civilians, will the senators press McChrystal about the “black jail” next week?

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