Reuters, June 24, 2009

Bagram lesser known - but more evil - twin of Guantanamo

Recently released U.S. government memos have shown the efforts of top U.S. lawyers to justify torture techniques to be used in prisons far from U.S. continental territory

Clara Gutteridge

-Clara Gutteridge is renditions investigator at Reprieve. The opinions expressed are her own.-

The big surprise in Tuesday’s revelations of prisoner abuse at Bagram is how long these stories have taken to reach the international media, given the scale of the problem.

Former detainees of the Bagram air base in Afghanistan have alleged a catalogue of abuse at the US military facility north of Kabul. The list of mistreatment including beatings, sleep deprivation and being threatened with dogs were told by 27 ex inmates to the BBC which conducted a two-month investigation. The detainees, held in Bagram between 2002 and 2008, were all accused of belonging to or helping Al-Qaeda or the Taliban but no charges were brought against them.
Radio Australia News, Jun. 25, 2009

Bagram Airforce Base is Guantanamo Bay’s lesser known - but more evil - twin. Thousands of prisoners have been “through the system” at Bagram, and around 600 are currently held there. Meanwhile President Obama’s lawyers are fighting to hold them incommunicado; stripped of the right to challenge the reasons for their imprisonment.

In this way, Bagram Airforce Base is just the latest in a long line of U.S.-created legal black holes. And as evidence of abuse there has begun to leak out, the U.S. military has responded in exactly the same way as it did to similar allegations at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere: by insisting that the torture is just the work of a few low-ranking “bad apples” and repeating that the U.S. “does not torture”.

Sad to say, the truth has revealed itself to be just the opposite. Recently released U.S. government memos have shown the efforts of top U.S. lawyers to justify torture techniques to be used in prisons far from U.S. continental territory. Faced with such evidence, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that prisons like Bagram were created in large part because the U.S. wanted to torture certain people held there.

The Obama administration argues that the prisoners in Bagram are not entitled to challenge their imprisonment because Afghanistan is in a state of war, and that therefore different legal rules apply. But many of the former Bagram prisoners, such as British residents Jamil El-Banna and Bisher Al-Rawi, were captured in countries far from the Afghan “battlefield”, and forcibly transferred into the war-zone. It seems wholly unfair that prisoners be denied rights simply because they have been kidnapped and rendered into a legal black hole.

In such renderings, the U.S. has not acted alone. The British government has recently admitted to capturing two men in Iraq who were handed to the U.S. and subsequently rendered to Afghanistan. Reprieve’s investigations suggest that these men were taken out of Iraq because the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal was breaking, and Afghanistan represented a safer, darker place to hold them indefinitely. Yet the British government refuses to assist us in our efforts to offer the men legal representation, preferring to allow them to languish in Bagram.

And this is the story of Bagram: 600 virtually unknown men are being held “beyond the rule of law” in desperate conditions, whilst the US government seeks to obstruct lawyers who seek to represent them, and other complicit governments such as the British bury their heads in the sand. Does any of this sound familiar?

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