BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan —
Those are the simple watchwords for a
company of Army military police that has been tasked with guarding
suspected al-Qaida fighters at a new transient prisoner camp at
Bagram Airfield north of Kabul .
"Everything we do is about maintaining
positive control," said Capt. Sean Tyson, who leads the 545th MP
Company, part of the 1st Cavalry Division based at Fort Hood , Texas
The facility, illuminated by
generator-powered klieg lights and guarded night and day by the
heavily armed MPs, serves as both an in-processing center and way
station for the prisoners. Gradually, over recent weeks, the United
States has begun taking custody of the prisoners from Afghan and
U.S. officials do not refer to the
fighters as prisoners of war. Instead, they are called "detainees,"
a label that has generated some controversy.
Within a day or so of their arrival at
Bagram, the detainees are sent to the southern city of Kandahar to
await transport to the U.S. Naval facility at Guantanamo Bay , Cuba
"We want them to understand very clearly
that we are in charge and that as long as they follow the rules,
everything will be fine," Tyson said.
It's a process, he explained, that starts
as soon as the prisoners arrive.
And it's soldiers like Staff Sgt. Sean
Conner who make sure the message is received loud and clear.
Toting a heavy, shoulder-high stick with
a brass ammunition casing serving as its base, Conner admits it can
be hard sometimes to suppress the anger he feels.
"Sure, it's a little upsetting when you
look at them and think about what they might have been involved in,"
said Conner. "But this isn't a revenge thing for us, it's a
professional thing. We're just here to do our mission."
A veteran of Somalia , where he had to
perform a similar mission, Conner says this time around it's more
"It hits home harder this time,
especially when you think about the effects of Sept. 11 and all
those people in New York , Pennsylvania and the Pentagon."
"I just try not to think about it," said
Spc. Scott Pena. "If I did, I think it would drive me crazy."
Nicknamed the Hotel Concertina by the
combat engineers who built it less than a month ago, the makeshift
stockade occupies an old, war-scarred Soviet-era aircraft hanger.
Tall coils of razor wire form holding pens for about 50 prisoners.
With memories still fresh of the prison
uprising in Mazar-e Sharef last month that left one CIA agent dead
and scores of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters killed or wounded, the
MPs say they're doing everything they can to ensure the same thing
doesn't happen here.
The shackled prisoners always arrive at
night, under cover of darkness aboard C-130 cargo planes flying in
from Afghan-run prisons throughout the country, as well as Pakistani
detention facilities across the border.
"It's always in the hours of darkness —
as much for their protection as anything else," said Tyson. "These
people are considered bad guys as much by the Northern Alliance as
they are by us and we have to ensure their safety."
The MPs also have to ensure their own
safety, as well as the well-being of the hundreds of U.S. troops who
use Bagram as a base of operations. Just down the runway from the
detention hangar, for example, is a row of black MH-47E Chinook
helicopters belonging to the 160th Special Operations Aviation
Regiment. The helicopters stand ready for nightly missions in
support of Special Forces teams operating in Afghanistan .
That's why almost immediately after
arriving, the prisoners are stripped naked and given a rectal exam.
It was hidden grenades, knives and other
weapons, that fueled the uprising in Mazar.
"What happened there is always in the
back of your mind," said Tyson. "It's the kind of thing that really
helps you keep from getting complacent."
Although he said his contingent has not
yet received a formal briefing on the uprising, "we've been told
enough to help make sure this doesn't turn into the same situation."
The strip search also serves more
psychological purposes as well.
"It's really demoralizing for them,"
Tyson said. In addition to losing their clothes and whatever private
possessions they may have, "they are stripped of their identity as a
group. You can see the transformation on their faces."
Seeing the human face of the enemy can be
disconcerting for some soldiers, said Tyson, who says he must guard
against a kind of reverse Stockholm Syndrome among his troops. The
syndrome is a phenomenon in which a hostage or prisoner, over time,
begins to sympathize with his or her captor.
"The in-processing can be demoralizing
for the soldiers, too. Many of these detainees can speak English,
and the soldiers can't help but get to know them a little," he said.
"As individuals, away from their groups,
some of these guys seem like normal people."
To help ensure his soldiers keep their
edge, Tyson keeps the guards on 12-hour shifts, separated by a full
24 hours off.
Issued a new set of clothes and a
blanket, the prisoners also are interrogated by military
intelligence agents as officials continue the on-going effort to
piece together Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.
During their entire stay at Bagram, the
prisoners' hands and feet remain bound by hard plastic shackles. The
"flexi cuffs," as the troops call them, give just enough room for
the prisoners to shuffle around and feed themselves.
Meals are similar to the same field
rations the troops eat, but exclude pork or anything inappropriate
Although the prisoners are allowed to
perform the ritualistic prayers of Islam, they are not permitted to
talk or even look at each other.
"They are allowed to pray and eat. That's
it," said Pena, the specialist. If a prisoner needs to relieve
himself, they are instructed to simply raise their bound hands over
their head. A pair of MPs then escorts the prisoner to a plywood
shack used as an outhouse beside the hangar.
"Sometimes," says 19-year-old Pfc. Amanda
Aragon, one of the youngest guards, "one of the prisoners will try
and eyeball me, like they're trying to stare me down. I just eyeball
If they harbor any illusions that they
can break the no-looking-around rule, because Aragon is a woman, she
corrects them quickly. "If I need to get in their face, I do, but
usually they figure it out."
On 14 November 2001, the 5th Platoon,
545th Military Police Company deployed to Camp Doha, Kuwait in
support of Task Force BLACKJACK THUNDER, Operation DESERT SPRING
03-01. While undergoing their training exercises, on 15
December they were redeployed and assigned to HQ-ARCENT located at
Bagram, Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The Afghan Military Forces (AMF) was holding up to 4,500 detainees
throughout the Coalition Joint Operational Area (CJOA) Afghanistan
who required interrogation and documentation of Personal
Identification Data (PID).
The purpose of collecting PID is to
create a better database for identifying potential enemy threats and
to screen these individuals to determine if they meet the criteria
to be treated as detainees. If an individual meets the
specified criteria, they are taken into custody in a detainee status
and secured for further processing.
In their new assignment in Afghanistan,
the 545th Military Police Platoon collected Personal Identification
Data (PID) on potential Taliban and al-Qaeda members in an effort to
identify America’s newest enemies. In their role that covered
the collection of personnel data, the security of detainees during
the operations, and subsequent aerial escort missions back to the
collection points, the 545th Military Police Platoon proved to be a
true combat multiplier in Afghanistan.
On 11 February, the Platoon, their
operations in Afghanistan completed, returned to Kuwait and
continued their training and support of Task Force Blackjack and
then returned in April to the United States.
"THEY EAT MRE'S - MY MEN EAT MRE'S
"THEY HAVE TO DEFICATE IN A BUCKET - "MY
MP'S DEFICATE IN A BUCKET"
CPT. Sean Tyson Commander of the 545th MP Company from Ft Hood,
Texas speaking of living condition for detainees at Bagram Airbase
near Kabul, Afghanistan.
First Cavalry MP's from Fort Hood Texas,
are guarding about 50 suspected Al-Queda fighters at a new detention
facility in Bagram Airbase, near Kabul, Afghanistan. The camp is
used as an in-processing center and way station for prisoners being
shipped to Kandahar and eventually to a prison on the US Navy Base
in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
(Above articles and photo's appeared in
the Stars and Stripes Newspaper)