Government Must Shed Light On Afghan Prison To Prevent "Other Guantánamos," Says ACLU
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NEW YORK – The government cannot continue to fully withhold a list of names, citizenship, length of detention, capture location and other vital information about detainees at the Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan, according to a letter the American Civil Liberties Union sent to the Department of Defense (DOD) today. In response to an April Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request made by the ACLU to the Departments of Defense, Justice and State and the CIA for documents related to the detention and treatment of prisoners at Bagram, the DOD told the ACLU that it has a list containing basic information about the Bagram detainees but is withholding it in its entirety. The CIA has refused even to confirm the existence of records about Bagram.
"There are serious concerns that Bagram is another Guantánamo – except with many more prisoners, less due process, no access to lawyers or courts and reportedly worse conditions," said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "As long as the Bagram prison is shrouded in secrecy, there is no way to know the truth or begin to address the problems that exist there."
In a July 28 letter responding to the FOIA request, the DOD informed the ACLU that it had located a 12-page list compiled by the National Detainee Reporting Center of information about individuals held at Bagram as of June 22, 2009. However, it has refused to make public any portions of the list, claiming national security and privacy concerns. Today's letter to the DOD appeals the withholding of the list.
In May, the CIA stated in a letter that it could "neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of records responsive" to the FOIA request. The ACLU sent a letter to the agency in June appealing their refusal to comply.
Recent reports suggest that the U.S. government is still detaining more than 600 individuals at Bagram, including not only Afghan citizens captured in Afghanistan but also an unknown number of foreign nationals captured thousands of miles from Afghanistan and brought to Bagram. Some of the detainees have been held there for more than six years without charge or access to counsel. Former Bagram detainees say they were beaten, deprived of sleep and threatened with dogs while at Bagram, according to a June BBC report based on interviews with detainees held there between 2002 and 2006.
"The Obama administration should make good on its own pledge of greater transparency and release these basic facts about who we are detaining and under what conditions," said Jonathan Hafetz, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "Whenever and wherever prisoners are in U.S. custody or under U.S. control, our basic values and commitment to the rule of law are at stake. President Obama's pledge to shut down Guantánamo was a good first step, but now we must shed light on the conditions at Bagram to ensure we don't permit 'other Gitmos' to continue elsewhere."
More information about the ACLU's FOIA request and the agency responses is available online at: www.aclu.org/bagram