U.S. Government Should Respond to Bagram Abuse Allegations

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Brenda Bowser Soder
bowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org
O:202-370-3323

U.S. Government Should Respond to Bagram Abuse Allegations

WASHINGTON - Human Rights First today called on the U.S. government to answer new
allegations that Afghan prisoners are being abused in a "secret jail" at
the U.S.-run Bagram airbase. In a letter to Vice-Admiral Robert S. Harward, Joint
Task Force Commander in Afghanistan, Human Rights First pressed for
answers to mounting allegations of abuse, including a BBC report issued
today that claims nine witnesses have confirmed such abuse. To date, the
U.S. government has consistently failed to respond to these serious
accusations.

"In addition to being reprehensible, abuse of prisoners in
Afghanistan would also directly undermine U.S. strategic interests
there, which depend upon the support and cooperation of the Afghan
people and their government," said Human Rights First's Daphne Eviatar.
"But beyond that, these latest reports, if true, suggest that the U.S.
may also be in violation of its legal obligations to treat detainees
humanely."

The U.S. government is obligated under international law to provide
the International Committee of the Red Cross access to all detainees in
U.S. custody and to treat detainees humanely. According to nine
witnesses who reportedly spoke to the BBC, prisoners at a secret site on
the U.S. airbase are being subjected to deliberate sleep deprivation
and extreme cold. Most said they were beaten by U.S. soldiers when they
were arrested, and had not been allowed to contact their families. None
had been visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

This is not the first time that such abuse allegations have surfaced.
In November 2009, the Washington Post reported that teenagers arrested
by U.S. authorities and held at the Bagram air base had similarly
charged that they'd been beaten, sexually humiliated, deprived of sleep
and held in isolation. Human Rights First subsequently requested
information and an investigation from the Department of Defense, but the
organization has still not received a response.

In October 2008, Human Rights First, in its Blueprint for the Next
Administration: How to End Torture and Cruel Treatment, called upon
the incoming administration to close secret prisons and end the
practice of holding "ghost prisoners." In a January 22, 2009 Executive
Order, President Obama revoked the CIA's detention authority and
required that the ICRC be given access to all armed conflict detainees,
as required by international law. It remains unclear, however, how long
after an arrest the ICRC is being permitted to meet with the detainees,
and if they are being given access to all U.S.-run detention sites in
Afghanistan.

"We urge the government to investigate all allegations of abuse and
to make the findings of such allegations public. Only by openly
investigating and punishing such abuses will the United States be able
to win the trust of the Afghan population, as well as American support
for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan," Eviatar concluded.

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Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.

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