15th MEU News

Marines, Soldiers Work Together Keeping Suspected Terrorists Locked Up

24 Dec 2001 | Sgt. Joseph R. Chenelly

(Editors note: In keeping with the Geneva Convention, photos of the detainees are not included.)

One flat foot in front of another, dust rises with each step down a narrow corridor between a triple-stand of concertina wire and a rusty, aluminum wall.

"Stand," a Marine commands with a tone that would make a drill instructor proud. "Get on your feet! Face the wire!"

A few thousand candle-watts glare down from makeshift towers as detained men reluctantly rise to their feet. Each stands shoulder to shoulder blankly staring at the space blanket between their feet and the dirt floor.

Concertina wire, locks and green engineer stakes divide the holding cells. Strings of lights resembling those at carnivals keep the entire compound lit at all times. Round, green tents that look like they may have been borrowed from a MASH outfit surround the holding facility.

This is as far from a carnival as possible. The detainees are dangerous, suspected terrorists who were captured or surrendered in fighting during the international war on terrorism.

Military police from the 15th and 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) team with a U.S. Army detachment of MPs guarding the short-term detention center around the clock here.

International Red Cross officials regularly observe the treatment and conditions the detainees receive here. Red Cross officials will also facilitate the delivery of mail on behalf of each detainee.  Each detainee is allowed to pray without being disturbed. Guards make sure the cells are sanitary and fit to live in. Drinking water is supplied at all times.

A medical staff checks on the detainees routinely and administers any needed medications. A Navy corpsman is on duty at all times in the compound. Every detainee is thoroughly examined when he first arrives. All illnesses are treated immediately.

A detainee taken from a firefight at a hospital in Kandahar lies in traction in a separate room. Navy doctors are healing his broken leg.

As one guard accounts for each detainee, another prepares to feed them. MREs and plastic bottles of water pass through the coils of wire.

"Thirty minutes and I'll be back to pick up your trash," a guard barks. "You will be done."

The detainees return to the ground pulling the meals out of tan-plastic pouches. The guards already removed the spoons and paper packaging. Vegetarian meals are provided to those whose religion calls prohibits them eating certain meat.

"The spoons could be fashioned into weapons to stab a guard, one of the other detainees or themselves," said a Marine sergeant military policeman with the 15th MEU (SOC). "They could use the cardboard or napkins to write notes to one another."

The shackles on incoming detainees clang as they are led across the runway blindfolded and lashed together.

They are directed into a large green tent one or two at a time. Clothes are cut off with surgical scissors and the processing begins. A thorough search ensues. Fingerprints, photos and hair and blood samples are taken.

The same mistake made in Mazar-e-Sharif will not be made here. There, prisoners hid grenades and other weapons on them and made it into the prison, which was run by opposition forces. Later the detainees rioted killing several guards and an American CIA agent there.

A wristband with an assigned tracking number is attached to each detainee's right wrist. Clothing similar to what locals wear are given to the prisoners along with a space blanket and a heavy comforter.

Empty sand bags are put over the detainees' heads before they are led in circles on the way to their cells.

"We walk them around aimlessly for a few minutes before taking them to the lockup area," a Marine explained. "They are further disorientated by this, and if they ever tried an escape they would have a hard time figuring out which way to run."

Hygiene and restroom amenities are in opposite corners of each cell. Guards empty them both regularly. The detainees keep their living space clean by sweeping the space blanket serving as their floor.

Marine combat engineers, military police and infantrymen with Task Force-58 constructed the facility, which can house more than 200 detainees, using a preexisting hangar and an assortment of items found throughout the airport.

An iron gate from a nearby storage lot squeaks every time someone enters the compound. Powerful spotlights hang from old Soviet helicopter rotor blades crafted into light poles. Armed guards watch over the cells from atop rolling stairs designed for boarding airplanes.

An elaborate security plan is in place aiming to make an escape impossible. Numerous guards stand watch inside and out the adobe walls around the compound.  Roving Marines and soldiers patrol the area constantly. Short shifts keep the service members fresh and alert.

A Quick Reaction Force stands by the compound at all times. Drills are run every shift to maintain their readiness. Just outside the gate off-duty MPs practice riot control procedures daily.

The facility continues to upgrade its security. Newly built towers now enable guards to monitor the entire complex from one spot. More towers are being built and the walls are being reinforced.

"We are protecting these people just as much as we are detaining them," a Marine said. "No one is getting in or out of here unless we escort them. They are our responsibility and Marines take responsibilities seriously."

15th Marine Expeditionary Unit