- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Pentagon will help finance construction of a locally run military prison in Afghanistan as part of a plan to send to their home countries scores of terror detainees at the prison at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The releases in the next year or so could reduce the prisoner population at the base to less than 400, from a one-time high of 800. There has not been a new detainee sent to Guantanamo since last September.

“We hope that in the future there will be less need for us to detain large numbers there,” Matthew C. Waxman, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, told The Washington Times. If any new detainees come to Guantanamo, he said, “it would be at a much slower, small rate of inflow than anything that we saw at the beginning” in 2002.

Instead, the Bush administration is embarking on a new strategy.

Mr. Waxman said the United States will help Afghanistan build a military prison to detain enemy combatants and to accept transfers from Guantanamo. A defense official could not supply details on the new prison, saying talks were in the early stages. The Pentagon also has made Guantanamo more selective, looking only for detainees thought to hold valuable intelligence information about terror networks.

Of the 500 detainees at Guantanamo, more than 100 are Saudi Arabians and 110 are Afghans. The United States has signed a deal with Afghanistan to gradually repatriate detainees on assurances that they will not be released to fight again. The Pentagon and State Department are “far along” in inking a similar agreement with Saudi Arabia, Mr. Waxman said.

The deals could result in the prisoner population at Guantanamo shrinking significantly in the next several years. It also would present fewer opportunities for attorneys of the detainees to pursue cases in U.S. courts. Two federal appeals courts have sided with President Bush on his asserted right to hold enemy combatants.

Mr. Waxman is part of a movement to reform the Pentagon’s prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo. The changes come in response to the abuse of some detainees by U.S. military personnel and to criticism from human rights groups.

The Pentagon started 12 senior-level investigations, resulting in nearly 500 recommendations for improvement. Congress convened 31 hearings, and the military conducted more than 500 criminal probes.

Mr. Waxman’s post was created to advise Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on detainee policy. Mr. Waxman also coordinates operations with the Army, which runs the system, and reaches out to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva.

In 2002, the prison network lacked adequately trained guards, field guidance on how to interrogate terror suspects and a good system of vetting complaints from Red Cross inspectors. Today, the Army is issuing new guidelines and has started modernized training programs. And prisoners have set up administrative review panels similar to parole boards that judge when inmates should be released.

“Over the past year, we’ve been quietly making significant changes across all aspects of detainee policy and operations,” said Mr. Waxman, a Yale Law School graduate and former staffer on the White House National Security Council. “Detention operations today are more effective and humane than they were a year ago. … We want to show that aggressive waging of the war on terrorism and humane treatment of detainees are not incompatible.”

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