WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is moving forward with plans to build a new, 40-acre detention complex on the main American military base in Afghanistan, officials said, in a stark acknowledgment that the United States is likely to continue to hold prisoners overseas for years to come.In the U.S., currently one in every 143 American is behind bars. A Pentagon spokesman said they believed they could finally bring peace to Afghanistan once that ratio hits one out of every 1.3 Afghan.
The proposed detention center would replace the cavernous, makeshift American prison on the Bagram military base north of Kabul, which is now typically packed with about 630 prisoners, compared with the 270 held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Until now, the Bush administration had signaled that it intended to scale back American involvement in detention operations in Afghanistan. It 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 United States, much less the waves of new prisoners from the escalating fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The proposal for a new American prison at Bagram underscores the daunting scope and persistence of the United States military’s detention problem, at a time when Bush administration officials continue to say they want to close down the facility at Guantánamo Bay.
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 United States will build what officials described as a more modern and humane detention center that would usually accommodate about 600 detainees — or as many as 1,100 in a surge — and cost more than $60 million.
"We'll have to leave a few of them free to pick the poppies, but that's about it," said the spokesman.
The spokesman added that the $60-million price tag would not affect tax payers, as the money will be taken directly from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Act.
"It's win-win all the way," said the spokesman.