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February 18th, 2010
08:47 PM ET

At the 96th hour

Program Note: Don't miss Abbie Boudreau's special investigation on the 96-hour rule tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

Roger Hill was the U.S. commander in charge of Wardak Province in eastern Afghanistan for much of 2008.

Roger Hill was the U.S. commander in charge of Wardak Province in eastern Afghanistan for much of 2008.

Abbie Boudreau
Special Investigations Unit Correspondent

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.

Under a NATO policy, troops can hold detainees for up for 96 hours. After that time, they must be released or turned over to Afghan authorities.

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?

soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Mike, formerly from Syracuse

    Easy solution; just don't take prisoners.

    February 18, 2010 at 7:20 pm |
  2. Mari

    Ditto, Tim Gibson.

    February 18, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
  3. liljillybean1

    I just cannot believe that this commander was discharged from the Army because he tried to protect the men he served. What kind of system disciplines someone for doing the right thing, and yet lets those that create the problem have a free pass? Why hasn't his battalion commander been punished or any other officers in his chain of command that knew of the situation? It's too easy to throw a captain and a 1st Sgt under the bus when there are Colonels and Generals to blame.

    February 18, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
  4. Mike, formerly from Syracuse, NY

    Obvious answer: take no prisoners.

    February 18, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
  5. Chuck, Lake Bluff,IL.

    I'm not necessarily opposed to the 96 hour limit but the united states should be able to charge and hold on there own at that point. we are helping the Afghan's and it seems like they are trying to hinder us

    February 18, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
  6. Dan

    When you are at War, you kill the enemy or take prisoners. What to do with prisoners is sorted out AFTER the War is over. Life is full of unfair circumstances, with War being one of them. The 96 hour rule is demoralilzing to soldiers and counterproductive to the objective to WIN the war.

    February 18, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
  7. Tim Gibson

    To accept the fact that soldiers should rish their lives to detain the enemy under the 96-hour rule would be to accept the fact that anyone abducted on the street is considered lost and gone after 96-hours and a kidnap victim detained beyond that point has no recourse other than acceptance. It just does not make any kind of logical sense.

    February 18, 2010 at 11:25 am |