February 26, 2010

Prisoners Held Indefinitely And Illegally Must Have Meaningful Opportunity To Challenge Their Detention

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today filed habeas corpus petitions challenging the illegal detention of four men who have been held for over a year – some for almost two years – at the notorious Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. The men, who have never engaged in hostilities against the United States and are not members of groups that have engaged in hostilities against the United States, have never been told why they are being detained, permitted to speak with a lawyer or given a meaningful opportunity to challenge their detention before a court or impartial administrative board.

"Locking up people who were picked up far from any battlefield for years without telling them why, without giving them access to lawyers and without giving them a real chance to contest the evidence against them is unlawful and un-American," said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "The U.S. military does not have the authority to imprison these men and the law demands they get a fair process to prove that."

One of the petitions filed today is on behalf of Afghan brothers Sibghatullah Jalatzai, who was a translator for the U.S. military for four years before his detention nearly 20 months ago, and Samiullah Jalatzai, who was arrested without explanation at his workplace nearly 23 months ago. The second petition is on behalf of Afghan government employee Haji Abdul Wahid and his nephew Zia-ur-Rahman, who were taken from their homes by the U.S. military during a massive neighborhood sweep more than one year ago. The petitions charge that the military does not have the authority to detain these men and that the lack of access to a court or fair process to challenge their detention violates the U.S. Constitution and international law.

"A court must have a chance to decide whether it's lawful to continue imprisoning these men without charge," said Jonathan Hafetz, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "The United States' practice of indefinitely detaining hundreds of people at Bagram without access to lawyers, judicial review or a fair process is a stain on our reputation in the world."

There is growing concern that Bagram has become the new Guantánamo, except with hundreds more prisoners held indefinitely, in harsher conditions and with less due process. In response to an ACLU Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking the disclosure of documents related to the detention and treatment of prisoners at Bagram, the Defense Department recently released for the first time a list containing the names of 645 prisoners who were detained at Bagram as of September 2009, when the lawsuit was filed. Other vital information, including their citizenship, how long they had been held, in what country they were captured and the circumstances of their capture, was redacted.

The ACLU filed today's habeas corpus petitions in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of Samiullah and Sibghatullah Jalatzai and Haji Abdul Wahid and Zia-Ur-Rahman. The petitions ask for the four men to be given access to lawyers and to be allowed to challenge the legality of their detention in court.

The ACLU filed today's habeas corpus petitions in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Attorneys on the case are Goodman, Hafetz and Jonathan Manes of the ACLU, Arthur Spitzer of the ACLU of the Nation's Capital and Tina Foster of the International Justice Network, which coordinates Bagram habeas litigation.

The petitions are available online at: www.aclu.org/national-security/jalatzai-v-gates-and-wahid-v-gates

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