While a House of Commons committee on the mission in Afghanistan continues to question witnesses and examine classified documents on the transfer of detainees to Afghan authorities by the Canadian Forces, Canadian Military Police are today running a Detainee Transfer Centre for suspected Taliban fighters at Kandahar Airfield (KAF) in as safe and healthy an environment as possible.

The centre has a temporary, provisional feel, like almost everything else at the airfield. Fenced in by high concrete blast walls, the centre consists of standard ISO units or sea containers that house interview rooms and medical facilities.

Suspects enter the facility with hands tied, blindfolded, and wearing ear protection so they know nothing about the location within KAF or external layout of the facility. After a shower, issue of clothing and medical examination, detainees enter four-person, eight by ten metre cells, furnished with cots, prayer rugs, books, cards, copies of the Koran and prayer beads. In the centre of the cell is a low, three-sided concrete “bunker” where detainees can shelter from rocket attacks, wearing helmets and flak jackets the Canadian soldiers toss down from the observation catwalk that overlooks all the cells.

At every transfer, the prisoners are searched. Photographs and videos are taken to prove they have not been mistreated. It requires permission from a senior officer to hold a suspect for more than 96 hours before release or handover to Afghan authorities. But it can sometimes take longer to gather evidence from the “battlespace” where they were captured and process it for handover to the Afghan National Directorate of Security. One case that involved a large seizure of drugs took a long time to process for prosecution by the counter-narcotics police.

Inmates have three meals a day, plenty of chilled bottled water and in the hottest weather a cool air mister lowers the temperature in the cells. In the winter, prisoners sleep in a tent against the far wall of their cell, where hot air flows from a duct enclosed in a mesh box.

The detainees have daily access to a doctor, and hot showers if they want them. If a prisoner refuses to keep clean, guards escort him to the showers and make sure he washes. Groups of up to eight prisoners can exercise outside in a yard, and during festivals like Eid, eat together in groups. Prisoners can write a weekly letter, make telephone calls and “visit” with their families occasionally using Skype videoconference software. If jet engines drown out the call to the faithful from the Kandahar Airfield mosque, a laminated card indicates the Muslim times of worship.

“Within a day, they pretty much understand the concept here,” said Capt. Sebastien Migneault, the facility commander.

The guards strive for mutual respect with the detainees under their control. As Migneault explained, detainees will sometimes try to get a guard’s attention by making a hissing sound. “That’s not working,” he said. As for the guards’ duties, Migneault said, “It’s a tough job. Honestly, it’s monotonous.”

When detainees are released for lack of evidence, they are taken to a small, comfortable room where an elder Afghan carefully explains why they were taken into custody. There is an expectation that they give gifts to people who visit them, so they are provided with a small sum of money as well as a taxi ride back to their homes. “They leave here with honour,” Capt. Migneault said.