Concerns Grow over Bagram's Prison within a Prison

Published on
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Inter Press Service

Concerns Grow over Bagram's Prison within a Prison

by
William Fisher

A US officer silhouetted at the Bagram prison. "The entire world is not a battlefield," says Melissa Goodman of the ACLU. "We cannot just capture people far from any zone of armed conflict and lock up them up indefinitely without any access to the courts or due process.(AFP)

NEW YORK - The administration of
President Barack Obama is considering using Afghanistan's U.S.-run
Bagram Air Base prison to indefinitely detain terrorism suspects
captured far from a battlefield and who have not been charged with a
crime - without any judicial oversight.

A senior U.S. official
reportedly told the Los Angeles Times that the Obama administration
wants to detain and interrogate non-Afghan terrorism suspects captured
in countries outside Afghanistan in a section of the Bagram prison,
even after it turns the prison over to Afghan control.

The
U.S. government has stated its intention to turn over control of the
Bagram detention facility to the Afghan government early next year. In
May, a federal court ruled that unlike at Guantánamo, prisoners in U.S.
custody at Bagram, including those who were captured far from any
battlefield and brought to Afghanistan, cannot challenge their
detention in U.S. courts. That decision paves the way for the U.S.
government to use Bagram to detain terrorism suspects indefinitely.

"The
Guantánamo problem is not solved simply by recreating a Guantánamo
somewhere else. Closing Guatánamo is essential but it is equally
important that the Obama administration put an end to the illegal
indefinite detention policy behind Guantánamo," said Melissa Goodman,
staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project.

"The
entire world is not a battlefield. We cannot just capture people far
from any zone of armed conflict and lock up them up indefinitely
without any access to the courts or due process. Such a policy not only
flies in the face of our justice system, but opens up the possibility
that mistakes will be made and the wrong people will be imprisoned -
which is exactly what we have seen at Guantánamo," she added.

The
ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in September
2009 demanding information about Bagram, which has thus far been
shrouded in much secrecy. In response to the lawsuit, the government
turned over some important information but continues to withhold key
details about the prisoners detained at Bagram, as well as information
about the implementation of its new detainee status review procedures
and about a separate "secret jail" on the base.

The secret
facility is reportedly run by either the Joint Special Operations
Command or the Defence Intelligence Agency, and detainees maintain they
have been abused there. It is unclear whether guards and interrogators
at the secret facility are subject to the same rules that apply at the
main Bagram detention facility.

"The possibility of continuing
to hold and interrogate detainees at Bagram is even more disturbing
given the lack of transparency about the facility," said Goodman.
"Plans to continue holding prisoners in U.S. custody at Bagram must be
accompanied by the disclosure of key information about what currently
goes on there."

In a related development, four Bagram detainees
were given their first opportunity to appear at a pre-trial hearing
last week. According to Reuters and the Associated Press, the detainees
- three adult brothers and their elderly father - were brought before a
panel of three Afghan judges on Jun. 1. The proceeding was the first
pre-trial hearing in advance of the first trial ever to be held at the
U.S.- controlled detention facility.

But legal advocacy groups
are expressing concern about the lack of transparency surrounding the
trial procedures, the apparent failure to provide detainees with
adequate access to their lawyers before the hearing, and lack of
arrangements for appropriate translation services.

Tina Foster,
the attorney who represents a number of Bagram detainees through the
International Justice Network (IJN), told IPS, "Once again the Obama
administration has simply made a grand pronouncement of policy without
any transparency or accountability. Given the failures of the
Obama-Bush track record on Military Commissions, it's hard to imagine
these would be anything other than Kangaroo court proceedings."

And
Daphne Eviatar, senior counsel at Human Rights First (HRF), said her
group was "dismayed that the proceeding so far has been chaotic and
(that) so little information has been made available about how this
trial will proceed and whether more such trials are planned".

Since
the U.S. military first began detaining suspected insurgents at Bagram
eight years ago, none have been accorded a trial by U.S. authorities.
Some have been transferred to an Afghan-run detention facility and
provided summary trials there. HRF has in the past criticised such
trials for not meeting the minimum standards of due process.

In
the past year, the group says, the U.S. military has begun to provide
more meaningful hearings for detainees at Bagram that allow the
suspects to call "reasonably available" witnesses and to be represented
by "personal representatives" chosen by the U.S. military.

However,
HRF points out that the detainees still have no right to legal
representation or to see much of the evidence used against them, as
much of it remains classified. The organisation has repeatedly asked to
see the rules governing these new Detainee Review Board procedures, but
the military has not responded.

News reports of the first
hearing last week also revealed that the trial procedures are
inadequately developed. One defence lawyer reportedly complained that
he had not an opportunity even to meet his client or to review his
client's file. And when the hearing began, it became clear that the
government had failed to provide the necessary translators to make it
comprehensible.

The trial was being conducted in Dari, rather
than in the detainees' native language, which is Pashto. Although there
were translators available to translate to English, there were none who
could translate the proceedings into Pashto.

Eviatar told IPS
that, "We support the idea of trials being presided over by Afghan
judges, (but) only if those trials are fair trials and if they're
conducted in a language that the detainees understands, or at least
with interpreters who can translate the proceedings into the detainee's
language."

"Obviously, a trial held in Dari without
interpreters available to translate to Pashto, when the detainees speak
and understand Pashto and not Dari, won't be comprehensible to the
detainees, and therefore by definition won't be fair," she added.

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