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Rights of Hundreds at Bagram Prison Still Denied

US Wary Over Granting Bagram Inmates' Rights


Watchtowers sit along the perimeter of Bagram prison, north of Kabul. (AFP/File/Massoud Hossaini)

WASHINGTON - A US appeals court has appeared reluctant to grant detainees at the Bagram prison in Afghanistan the same rights given in 2008 to prisoners in Guantanamo to be able to challenge their detention in US civilian courts.

Judges here were wary of extending three detainees such rights at the military prison at the Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, indicating such a ruling could lead to other prisoners held oversees by the United States to seek redress in federal court.

In April last year, US District Judge John Bates recognized the right of the detainees, held at Bagram without charge for at least six years, to challenge their detention in the United States, according to their lawyers.

He based the ruling on the landmark Supreme Court move in 2008 to allow such rights to prisoners held at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"These detainees have been denied a due process," insisted attorney Tina Foster on Thursday.

The three appeals court judges however expressed concern that an approval of Bates' ruling would open the door to more than 670 prisoners currently held at Bagram, and serve as precedent for other people detained in US military bases around the world.

The Bagram prison has served since 2002 as a holding site for terror suspects captured outside Afghanistan and Iraq.

In September, the United States granted Bagram prisoners the nominal right to challenge their detention, but not in US courts.

Bates originally ruled that foreign prisoners held at Bagram should also be provided the right enshrined in the writ of habeas corpus.

In responding, however, the administration has argued Bates's ruling "reverses long-standing law, imposes great practical problems, conflicts with the considered judgment of both political branches, and risks opening the federal courts to habeas claims brought by detainees held in other theaters of war during future military actions."

Many of the detainees at Bagram have languished for years.

But unlike prisoners at Guantanamo Bay -- where some 229 "war on terror" detainees are still held -- the Bagram inmates have had no access to lawyers, no right to hear the allegations against them and only rudimentary reviews of their status as "enemy combatants."

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