In November, the New York Times and Washington Post reported the existence of a secret "black site" prison at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. The site, unconfirmed by the military and separate from the main prison at Bagram, was reported based on interviews with human-rights workers and people who claimed to be former detainees.

Now the BBC reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross has confirmed the site's existence with the military. The U.S. official in charge of Afghanistan detention, Vice Admiral Robert Harward has denied that the prison, reportedly called the Tor Jail after the Urdu word for "black," exists. What do we know?

  • Tor Jail Conditions  BBC's Hilary Andersson reports, "In recent weeks the BBC has logged the testimonies of nine prisoners who say they had been held in the so-called 'Tor Jail'. They told consistent stories of being held in isolation in cold cells where a light is on all day and night. The men said they had been deprived of sleep by US military personnel there." The cells are filled with a constant noise and guards regularly wake prisoners to prevent them from sleeping.
  • Tor Jail Detainee Speaks  Andersson records an account from one detainee. "Mirwais was watering his plants one night when American soldiers came to get him. He is still missing half a row of teeth from the beating he says he got that night and he says he cannot hear properly in one ear. US troops accused him of making bombs and giving the Taliban money."
  • The Sketchy Timeline  The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman explores, "Months ago, I asked Vice Adm. Robert Harward, the chief U.S. military officer responsible for detentions operations in Afghanistan if all detainees had access to the Red Cross, and he answered, 'All detainees under my command have access to the International [Committee of the] Red Cross.' According to the ICRC, that's been the case since August 2009 (which precedes Harward’s November arrival in Afghanistan). But how long was Tor open before detainees had ICRC access?"
  • Karzai Already Emphasizing Bagram  Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin notes the timing: Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in Washington to meet with Obama. "One request that Karzai and friends brought to town is that the Obama team confirm and then speed up their promise to hand over control of the Bagram prison to the Afghan government. Bagram, sometimes called 'Obama's Guantanamo' because of the secretive procedures use to detain and interrogate prisoners there, held 645 prisoners captured on the battlefield as of September 2009."
The President began his administration with a big series of presidential orders that supposedly ended the Bush administration’s policy of torturing prisoners, and shut down the CIA’s black site prisons. But as we know now, not all the black site prisons were shut down. Nor was the torture ended. Whether it’s beatings and forced-feedings at Guantanamo, or the kinds of torture described at Bagram, it’s obvious that torture has not been rooted out of U.S. military-intelligence operations. In fact, by way of the Obama administration’s recent approval of the Bush-era Army Field Manual on interrogations, with its infamous Appendix M, which allows for much of the kind of torture practiced at Bagram, the White House has institutionalized a level of torture that was introduced by the previous administration.