What is the U.S. doing with its terrorist prisoners in Afghanistan and elsewhere overseas?

Although we de-Talibaned its government over a year ago, we still have about 8,000 troops in Afghanistan. Their missions are the following:

1) Hunt down leftover al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders. Osama "Gimp Kidneys" bin Laden, Mullah "Cyclops" Omar and several of their underling leftovers are still spelunking their way around the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Catching them is an important job because that cold mountain air keeps leftovers fresh.

2) Provide security for the new government. For some reason, many Afghans don't like the new U.S.-installed government led by President Hamid Karzai, and have taken it upon themselves to try to kill its members. That's rude. As I recall, Americans were very accepting in 1969 when Afghan troops installed President Nixon as the leader of our government.

3) Be available for TV photo-ops. One-fourth of our forces in Afghanistan seem to be around solely to appear in front of cameras every time an American TV news or sports program wants to show footage of the troops. Right now, the Army's 74th Football Corps is deploying to Kandahar from its base in the U.S. so the NFL can have footage of troops watching the Super Bowl.

4) Interrogating prisoners. Since October 2001, when our military mission in Afghanistan started, we've been collecting enemy prisoners, the most famous of which is probably Ramzi Binalshibh. He was captured in Pakistan in September and is thought to be one of the key 9-11 plotters. Actually, "thought to be" isn't really accurate; the guy gave an interview to the Al Jazeera TV network bragging about his role in the attacks. Jerk.

Because Binalshibh was active with al-Qaeda until September 2002, we're trying to acquire information about possible future terrorist attacks on the U.S. or its allies. To get this information, we've set up detention and interrogation facilities abroad, where we can — how can I put this without sounding dramatic — politely coax him and other prisoners into talking without regard to that pesky "due process" stuff we offer U.S. prisoners. The government won't reveal where he's being held, though he could be with the other prisoners on our bases in Cuba or Afghanistan. We're also thought to be interrogating al-Qaedudes aboard U.S. Naval vessels and at our base on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.

Not surprisingly, some of these prisoners don't reveal much information to us unless they are "compelled." Methods we use to "compel" them include sleep deprivation (via bright lights or loud music), making them stand for hours at a time (via making them stand in line to renew their drivers licenses) and, my favorite, having women interrogate them. According to sources quoted in the Washington Post, some of these freaks are so backward that putting a woman in charge of the questioning really messes with their heads.

To the prisoners who cooperate, we give creature comforts. We supposedly turn over the ones who won't cooperate to allied countries that are less shy about using "more persuasive" techniques to get information. Morocco, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have all helped us interrogate prisoners; each is more permissive of torture and abuse of prisoners than we are. Said one U.S. official quoted anonymously in the Washington Post: "We don't kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them."



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