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Detainee holding area (DHA)

Definition A Detainee Holding Area (DHA) is a term used in military operations referring to a temporary facility used to hold and process detainees. These are individuals captured in connection to military engagements until their status can be determined and appropriate actions can be taken. The term can also refer to areas where detainees are […]


A Detainee Holding Area (DHA) is a term used in military operations referring to a temporary facility used to hold and process detainees. These are individuals captured in connection to military engagements until their status can be determined and appropriate actions can be taken. The term can also refer to areas where detainees are held for transportation to longer-term detention facilities.

Key Takeaways

  1. A Detainee Holding Area (DHA) is a secure location where detainees are held temporarily following their capture during military operations. It is primarily used for initial processing and interrogation before being moved to a more permanent detention facility.
  2. The DHA must adhere to international laws and regulations regarding the humane treatment of detainees. This includes providing basic requirements like adequate food, water, shelter, and medical care, as well as ensuring that detainees are not subjected to torture or any form of inhumane treatment.
  3. The operations of a DHA are also subject to certain procedural standards. These include proper record-keeping, ensuring the security of the area, and guaranteeing that detainees have the opportunity to communicate with the outside world and receive visits from international organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).


The term Detainee Holding Area (DHA) is crucial in military operations because it refers to a specific site where individuals who have been detained during military activities are held.

In the context of managing potentially hostile environments, holding areas play a critical part in operations by providing secured and monitored spaces for those who may pose a risk to the mission or the local population.

Importantly, DHAs should uphold the principles of human rights and international law, even in volatile contexts, ensuring detainees are treated fairly and humanely.

Hence, a DHA’s effective establishment and management serve operational effectiveness, security, as well as moral and legal obligations.


The purpose of a Detainee Holding Area (DHA) within military operations is to temporarily house and secure detainees that have been captured during a conflict. The design and function of a DHA usually aim at ensuring the safety, security and well-being of both the detainees and the military personnel responsible for their supervision. DHAs are employed in situations where detainees need to be held temporarily, usually right after capture, before they are transported or processed further.

While the conditions at a DHA can vary, they all share the core premise of maintaining secure environments as set by international and domestic laws and guidelines. A DHA is usually used for processing and initial interrogation of detainees. Interrogations here are focused on obtaining immediate tactical intelligence.

The gathered information can often be crucial in shaping the course of ongoing operations. Additionally, DHAs are also designed to provide basic humanitarian needs to detainees such as food, water, and appropriate medical care, as mandated by the Geneva Conventions. Once these initial processes are completed, detainees are usually moved to more permanent facilities or prison camps.

In essence, the Detainee Holding Area serves as the temporary, initial nexus between capture, processing, and longer-term detainment.

Examples of Detainee holding area (DHA)

Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp: This is a United States military prison located within Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. Established in 2002 by President George W. Bush’s administration during the War on Terror, this DHA has housed hundreds of detainees, many accused of being involved in terrorist activities. It continues to operate, despite ongoing controversies about the treatment of prisoners and the legality of its operation.

Abu Ghraib Prison: Located in Iraq, this was used by U.S. forces during the Iraq War as a DHA, and detained numerous Iraqi prisoners. The prison became notoriously known for the serious violations of human rights, including physical and psychological abuses, acts of torture, and even murder committed by U.S. Army and CIA personnel that came to light in

Camp Bucca: This was a detention facility maintained by the United States military in the vicinity of Umm Qasr, Iraq. Operational from 2003 to 2009, the camp held as many as 20,000 detainees at its peak. The facility was known as the main DHA for Iraq due to the vast number of inmates it housed, and it was the birthplace of what eventually became the terrorist organization ISIS.

FAQs about Detainee Holding Area (DHA)

What is a Detainee Holding Area (DHA)?

A Detainee Holding Area (DHA) refers to a confinement structure where detainees are held temporarily. This term is commonly used in the military and can range from ad-hoc enclosures to more established facilities depending on the scale of the operation.

What is the primary role of a DHA in military operations?

The primary role of a DHA is to provide a secure environment for keeping detainees. It ensures the safe and lawful custody of detainees, along with maintaining decent living conditions, until they can be handed over to a longer-term detention facility or released.

Who supervises the DHA?

The supervision of a DHA is typically under the realm of the military police or unit assigned with a detention task. These personnel are trained to facilitate the administration, security and welfare of the detainees.

What’s the importance of having a DHA in a military operation?

A DHA is crucial in a military operation as it provides a controlled environment to house detainees. It serves to uphold humanitarian standards by ensuring secure, humane treatment while maintaining operational security. It diminishes the risk of detainees slipping away or causing discord within the ranks of military personnel.

How are the conditions inside a DHA?

A DHA tries to adhere to international humanitarian laws and standards. The conditions inside are generally basic but uphold human dignity. Provision of food, clean water, medical assistance, and necessary sanitation facilities are just some of the measures to ensure the welfare of detainees.

Related Military Operation Terms

  • Detention Facility
  • Military Custody
  • Prisoner of War (POW)
  • Internment Camp
  • Geneva Convention Rights

Sources for More Information

Sure, here are some reliable sources that provide information about the term ‘Detainee holding area (DHA)’ :

  • Joint Chiefs of Staff – Official website of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking military officers in the United States department of defense, who advise the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the National Security, Homeland Security Councils.
  • U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) – The website provides a lot of detailed and official information on military operations of the United States.
  • Department of Justice (DOJ) – This website might include legal definitions and contexts for the Detainee holding area.
  • International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) – The ICRC works globally to provide humanitarian help for people affected by conflict and armed violence and to promote the laws that protect victims of war. The website might provide an international legal perspective on ‘Detainee holding area’

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