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Bagram Detainees Stage Protest Against US Treatment
Prisoners at airbase in Afghanistan refuse family visits and recreation time to highlight denial of legal rights
KABUL - Hundreds of prisoners at the main American detention centre in Afghanistan are refusing privileges such as recreation time and family visits in protest at their lack of legal rights.
American forces hold around 600 prisoners at Bagram airbase outside the capital, Kabul, as "unlawful enemy combatants", a status the US says does not give them the right to legal representation.
Human rights campaigners have argued that these prisoners should be given the same rights as those detained at the US naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The US military argues that Bagram detainees should be treated differently because they are being held in an active theatre of war.
A US federal judge ruled in April that the Bagram detainees have the right to challenge their detention in American courts, and the Obama administration has asked a federal appeals court to overturn the decision.
The Bagram detainees' protest, which began on 1 July, is about this lack of access to lawyers or independent reviews, said a military official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk about the issue to the media.
The prisoners have refused outside recreation time, family visits and video phone calls arranged by the Red Cross, he said, adding that the majority of detainees are taking part.
Red Cross officials confirmed they had been asked to halt family visits and calls. "The detainees told us that they don't want to participate in the family visit programme, and we have suspended it until they're ready to resume," said spokeswoman Jessica Barry.
The Red Cross last visited the detention centre on 5 July, and further visits have been temporarily suspended, though one would not normally happen for another six weeks, Barry said. She could not comment on the protest, saying only: "We are aware that there are tensions in the prison at the moment."
The prisoners have not refused food or water, the military official said.
Bagram detainees are told the reason for their arrest and are allowed to defend themselves at six-month military review sessions, but without outside legal counsel, according to military statements.
Afghan human rights officials said they could not comment on the protest because they were not allowed into the prison and had no information on it.
"The constitution has given us the authority to monitor the condition of prisoners throughout Afghanistan, and especially the coalition detention centres, but they have refused to let us in," said Mohammad Farid Hamidi, a human rights commissioner.