During his first days in office, we celebrated President Obama’s decision to swiftly fulfill his campaign promises as he signed an executive order to shut down Guantanamo Bay, close the CIA’s secret overseas prisons, and ban torture. But in the government’s response to a federal court on Friday, President Obama’s team embraced the Bush Administration policy of holding detainees indefinitely without trial at Bagram prison in Kabul.
In a two-sentence response to the court, the Obama administration stated, “Having considered the matter, the government adheres to its previously articulated position.” That decision raises the question, of whether Obama’s closure of Guantanamo merely symbolic?
Bagram was set up by the U.S. military after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the prison was meant to be a temporary screening site for interrogation. Today, the permanent facility holds an estimated 600 – 700 detainees, more than double that of Guantanamo.
Donned ‘the other gitmo,’ reports indicate prisoners are given even fewer privileges than Guantanamo detainees and no access to lawyers. The International Committee of the Red Cross has complained about the continued mistreatment of prisoners held at Bagram. And as the several investigative reports and the film Taxi to the Dark Side details, the treatment of detainees at Bagram preceded and may have even led to the scandal and abuse at Abu Ghraib.
Hina Shamsi of the ACLU says, “Bagram appears to be just as bad as, if not worse than, Guantanamo. When a prisoner is in American custody and under American control, our values are at stake and our commitment to rule of law is tested.”
After the Supreme Court ruled prisoners at Guantanamo Bay had a right to habeas corpus, the case of four detainees being held at Bagram was brought before a federal court. The four men were captured outside of Aghanistan, and were found not engaged in battle or otherwise directly aiding terrorist groups, but have been held for over five years without trial. U.S. District Judge John D. Bates said in a hearing, “These individuals are no different than those detained at Guantanamo Bay except where they’re housed.”
Lawyers for the Bagram detainees say the issue “is whether the Executive can create a modern-day Star Chamber, where it can label an individual as an ‘enemy combantant,’ deny him any meaningful ability to challenge that label, and on that basis, detain him indefinitely, virtually incommunicado, subject to interrogation and torture, without any right of redress.”
Bagram is a permanent prison and is currently undergoing a $60 million construction which will allow better treatment of detainees, but also expand its capacity to 1,100 prisoners. With President Obama’s recent decision to send an additional 17,000 troops to the country, it seems likely Bagram’s number of detainees will grow too.
We need a leader who stands on principles, not piecemeal policies. Join us in Reminding Obama of his Promises and Call the White House at (202) 456-1111 to tell him “No More Gitmos!”
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