The American detention centre at Bagram in Afghanistan could be expanded into
a Guantánamo-style prison for terrorist suspects detained around the world.
This is one of the options being considered as US officials try to find an
alternative to Guantánamo Bay, which President Obama promised to close
within a year of taking office. The continued use of the prison in Cuba has
presented Mr Obama with an embarrassing dilemma because of the difficulty of
finding somewhere acceptable to imprison those considered to be the most
A decision to send al-Qaeda suspects detained in countries such as Yemen and
Somalia to Bagram, which is located north of Kabul, would be highly
General Stanley McChrystal, the American commander in Afghanistan, has already
voiced his opposition, according to the Los Angeles Times newspaper,
because of the negative publicity it would generate.
A senior Pentagon official said: “No one particularly likes any of the choices
before us right now, but Bagram may be the least bad among them.”
The other alternative — of using a special prison in the US — is seen as less
practical because the detainees would have to be put through the American
justice system, and some of the suspects considered by the US as the most
dangerous would be difficult to prosecute because of the lack of sufficient
evidence. Congress would also oppose such a move.
Bagram currently houses about 800 detainees, including a small number of
foreign fighters who were not arrested in Afghanistan. They were taken there
under the Administration of George W. Bush.
The other complication for Mr Obama is that, under current plans, Bagram is to
be handed over to the Afghan Government next year, so unless the US military
retained control over one section of the prison — solely for suspects
detained outside of Afghanistan — it is unlikely that the Government of
President Karzai would approve of having responsibility for those detained
by US special forces or the CIA in another part of the world.
A US official told the Los Angeles Times that General McChrystal
supported the idea of Bagram being used for foreign fighters detained in
Pakistan, provided they had a direct bearing “on the fight in Afghanistan”.
That would include Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the alleged Taleban leader
captured in Pakistan in February.
The issue of where to put high-risk detainees is so sensitive that when
Admiral Eric Olson, commander of US Special Operations Command, was asked at
a Senate hearing last week where he would send a terrorist suspect arrested
in Yemen, he said that he could answer that question only in closed session.