On Thursday, April 22, Columbia Law School’s National Security & Law Society, Federalist Society, and American Constitution Society hosted an afternoon presentation on “Detention Issues in Afghanistan.” The presentation featured Michael Gottlieb, former Associate Counsel to President Barack Obama, and was moderated by Professor Trevor Morrison of Columbia Law School.
Mr. Gottlieb is currently serving as Civilian Deputy of Joint Task Force 435. The Task Force is in charge of US detention and related operations in Afghanistan.
During his presentation, Mr. Gottlieb explained the work that is being done by the Task Force and highlighted the changes the Task Force has implemented to the US detention program in Afghanistan. Notably, Mr. Gottlieb discussed the plans to turn over much of the responsibility for the detention facility at Bagram Air Force Base to the custody of the government of Afghanistan.
Mr. Gottlieb highlighted the U.S. efforts to play to tribal customs by asking elders in Afghani villages to take responsibility for the detainees from their communities once they are released from custody. Additionally, Mr. Gottlieb detailed the development of detainee educational programs, designed to ensure the detainees’ successful reintegration into Afghan society post-release.
Mr. Gottlieb also detailed Detainee Review Board (DRB) procedures and pointed out some of the diplomatic challenges the Task Force has faced.
Mr. Gottlieb addressed a number of issues raised by the audience. First, he explained likely difficulties that he foresaw in transitioning from a status-based, US-led military detention system to an act-based, Afghani criminal system. Mr. Gottlieb noted that lack of access to the criminal courts and a dearth of government prosecutors will present clear obstacles to a legal detention regime under the Afghan criminal model.
Later questions included the particular role that lawyers played on the Joint Task Force, the training that military officials assigned to represent detainees during DRB proceedings receive, and how a judicial finding in the al Maqaleh case that those detained in Afghanistan are entitled to habeas corpus might impact the operations of the Joint Task Force.