As Endless War Drags On, US Has No Plans to Release Secret Prisoners Kept in Afghanistan
New President Ashraf Ghani set to endorse Bilateral Security Agreement, paving way for thousands of U.S. troops to maintain presence for another decade
As the U.S. cements a pact to maintain troops in Afghanistan following their reported withdrawal at the end of the year, a top U.S. official has admitted that the military also has no set plan to release the secret prisoners held captive in that country.
Brigadier General Patrick J. Reinert told Reuters that the unknown number of foreign nationals who were abducted and held in captivity near the Bagram Airbase may be sent to their country of origin but will more likely be transferred to the U.S. court system or to Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
"If someone has committed a crime overseas that could be a crime also in the United States, a detainee could be transferred back to the United States," Reinert said.
"We've got to resolve their fate by either returning them to their home country or turning them over to the Afghans for prosecution or any other number of ways that the Department of Defense has to resolve," Reinert continued. Unless the new Afghan leadership carves out an exception, NATO states will no longer be allowed to hold wartime captives in that country after 2014.
Reinert's statement comes the same day that Afghanistan swore in their newly elected President Ashraf Ghani. Ghani will head the country's new unity government along with chief rival Abdullah Abdullah, who was sworn in shortly after Ghani to the newly created post of chief executive. On Tuesday, the new leader is expected to endorse the long-awaited Bilateral Security Agreement, which permits the occupation of 8,000-12,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan for another decade. The agreement further allows that U.S. troops not be subject to Afghan law for criminal acts—even war crimes.
The U.S. military refuses to disclose the number, names or home country of the Bagram captives though advocates for the prisoners say that they have been held without charge and are victims of rendition, practiced by the U.S. military under President George Bush.
Calling the U.S. military's plan—or lack thereof—to continue the indefinite detention of these detainees an "absolute nightmare," Maryam Haq, a lawyer with the human rights group Justice Project Pakistan said, "We don't even know who they are."
According to Justice Project Pakistan, most of those held at Bagram are Pakistani, though others are from Yemen, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. On September 20th, 14 Pakistan detainees were quietly released from U.S. custody and handed over to Pakistani authorities in the largest transfer from Bagram yet.
Following that release, the Guardian's Spencer Ackerman estimated that there are now 13 non-Afghans still held at the secret detention center. Ackerman spoke with Abdul Sattar, a Pakistani man recently released from Bagram detention, who confirmed that the captives "often go on hunger strike to protest their confinement and its terms."
Unlike captives held at Guantanamo, Bagram detainees are not permitted access to lawyers, and their only outside contact is with representatives from the Red Cross.