Obama Sides With Bush on Bagram Detainees
The Obama Administration has advised a federal judge that it agrees with former President Bush's position that detainees at the U.S. military prison in Bagram, Afghanistan have no right to challenge their confinement in U.S. Courts.
Last year, the US Supreme Court gave suspects held at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the right to challenge their detention.
Following that ruling, petitions were filed at a Washington district court on behalf of four detainees at Bagram.
The judge then gave the new administration an opportunity to refine the rules on appeals. In a two-sentence filing, justice department lawyers said the new administration had decided not to change the government's position.
What's the difference? More water between the U.S. and Afghanistan than the U.S. and Cuba?
The US justice department argues that Bagram differs from Guantanamo Bay because it is in an overseas war zone and prisoners there are being held as part of ongoing military action.
Prof Barbara Olshansky, who represents four Bagram detainees, responds:
"The situation in Bagram is so far from anything like meeting the laws of war or the human rights treaties that we're bound to," she told the BBC. "There are no military hearings where the detainees can present evidence," she added. "Torture has led to homicides there that have been admitted by the US."
"It's quite a severe situation, and yet the US is planning a $60m new prison to hold 1,100 more people there."
Olshansky said Obama's response was both surprising and a disappointment.
Bagram was never meant to be a long-term facility, yet that is what it has become. The New York Times reported in 2006:
Pentagon officials have often described the detention site at Bagram, a cavernous former machine shop on an American air base 40 miles north of Kabul, as a screening center. They said most of the detainees were Afghans who might eventually be released under an amnesty program or transferred to an Afghan prison that is to be built with American aid.
....Bagram has operated in rigorous secrecy since it opened in 2002. It bars outside visitors except for the International Red Cross and refuses to make public the names of those held there. The prison may not be photographed, even from a distance.
From the accounts of former detainees, military officials and soldiers who served there, a picture emerges of a place that is in many ways rougher and more bleak than its counterpart in Cuba.
Men are held by the dozen in large wire cages, the detainees and military sources said, sleeping on the floor on foam mats and, until about a year ago, often using plastic buckets for latrines. Before recent renovations, they rarely saw daylight except for brief visits to a small exercise yard.
The military review hearings at Bagram are much more restrictive than at Gitmo:
The Bagram panels, called Enemy Combatant Review Boards, offer no such guarantees. Reviews are conducted after 90 days and at least annually thereafter, but detainees are not informed of the accusations against them, have no advocate and cannot appear before the board, officials said. "The detainee is not involved at all," one official familiar with the process said.
Is Obama also going to go along with the plan to build prisons abroad to hold these detainees, perhaps for life, even though no charges have been brought against them?
The reporting on this in other countries is not likely to be favorable. The Sydney Morning Herald has no quotes from Obama or the DOJ and this quote from Olansky:
"The decision by the Obama administration to adhere to a position that has contributed to making our country a pariah around the world for its flagrant disregard of people's human rights is deeply disappointing," said Barbara Olshansky, lead counsel for three of four detainees.
All of our Bagram coverage is accessible here.
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