Washington, May 17 : The Pentagon is planning to build a new 40-acre detention complex on the main American military base in Afghanistan, which means that the US intends to continue to hold prisoners overseas for years to come. Ostensibly the reason for constructing the new prison is to overcome serious health risks to Afghan detainees, in general, and American military personnel, in particular, at the Bagram military base prison in Afghanistan, which presently holds 630 prisoners (much more than its capacity).
The new Bagram jail compound is expected to be built away from the existing center of operations on the base, on the other side of a long airfield from the headquarters building that now sits almost directly adjacent to the detention center, one military official said.
He added that it will have its own perimeter security wall, and its own perimeter security guards, a change that will increase the number of soldiers required to operate the detention center.
The proposal underscores the daunting scope and persistence of the US military's detention problem, at a time when Bush administration officials continue to say they want to close down the facility at Guant namo Bay.
The proposed detention center would replace the cavernous, makeshift American prison (Bagram) at military base north of Kabul, reported the New York Times.
Until now, the Bush administration had signaled that it intended to scale back American involvement in detention operations in Afghanistan, and had planned to transfer a large majority of the prisoners to Afghan custody, in an American-financed, high-security prison outside Kabul to be guarded by Afghan soldiers.
But, American officials now concede that the new Afghan-run prison cannot absorb all the Afghans now detained by the US, much less the waves of new prisoners from the escalating fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
After the Bagram prison was set up in early 2002, it became a primary site for screening prisoners captured in the fighting. Conditions and treatment have improved markedly since then, but hundreds of Afghans and other men are still held in wire-mesh pens surrounded by coils of razor wire. There are only minimal areas for the prisoners to exercise, and kitchen, shower and bathroom space is also inadequate.
Faced with that, American officials said they wanted to replace the Bagram prison, a converted aircraft hangar that still holds some of the decrepit aircraft-repair machinery left by the Soviet troops who occupied the country in the 1980s. In its place, the US will build what officials described as a more modern and humane detention center that would usually accommodate about 600 detainees - or as many as 1100 in a surge - and cost more than 60 million dollars.
"It's just not suitable. At some point, you have to say, 'That's it. This place was not made to keep people there indefinitely," a Pentagon official said.
The new detention center at Bagram will incorporate some of the lessons learned by the US in Iraq. Classrooms will be built for vocational training and religious discussion, and there will be more space for recreation and family visits, officials said.
"The driving factor behind this is to ensure that in all instances we are giving the highest standards of treatment and care," said Ms. Hodgkinson, who has briefed Senate and House officials on the construction plans.