February 18, 2010
Posted: 11:27 AM ET
The more I learn about NATO’s 96-hour detainee rule, the more I wonder why military commanders and NATO politicians created it in the first place.
What I heard from nearly everyone I interviewed for this story is that the rule was developed in response to the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison. The world was watching, and no one wanted another humiliating display of detainee abuse. There had to be stricter rules when it came to detaining the enemy and there had to be a time limit on how long a suspect could be held. So, a small group of people agreed that 96 hours – or four days – was the magic number.
Nearly half of U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan are not operating under the U.S. military, but they are assigned to NATO. That means, nearly half of U.S. troops in Afghanistan are following NATO’s 96-hour rule. The soldiers we’ve interviewed say this rule caters to the enemy, and puts soldiers lives at risk. One former commander told me he would instruct his soldiers to “not bother” detaining the enemy anymore, because the 96-hour rule made it too difficult to keep someone locked up.
From the moment a soldier captures a suspect, the clock begins to tick. They have 96 hours to gather enough evidence to hand over to the Afghans, so that Afghan authorities can detain the suspects and do what they want with them. If the Afghans decide they don’t want to detain the suspect, the NATO soldiers have no other choice, but to release them.
We’ve talked to military experts, soldiers, former commanders on the ground, even people who helped implement this rule, and they all say the enemy knows about the time constraints, so they are trained to keep quiet for the 96 hours they are detained so soldiers will be forced to release them. How does this strategy make sense? How could anyone expect soldiers – who remember, are not trained to be police officers or criminal investigators – to gather all of the required evidence to lock someone up in just 96 hours? We certainly do not hold prosecutors to these strict time restrictions when they are building their case.
I have one very simple question for you: Do you think soldiers should risk their lives to detain the enemy under the 96-hour rule?
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