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ACLU to Government: Shed Some Light on Bagram

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August 13, 2009

Today, we sent a letter to the Department of Defense (DOD), asking them to reconsider their refusal to turn over information about the detention facility at Bagram in Afghanistan. The request is connected to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request we filed earlier this year with the Departments of Defense, Justice and State and the CIA for documents related to the detention and treatment of prisoners at Bagram.

Since filing our initial request, the government has been far from responsive in terms of turning over information. DOD has told us (PDF) that it has a list containing basic information about the Bagram detainees but is withholding it in its entirety, claiming national security and privacy concerns. Today’s letter (PDF) is an appeal of their withholding of that vital information, which includes names, citizenships, duration of detention and capture location of detainees currently held at Bagram. The CIA has refused to even confirm the existence of records about Bagram, stating in a letter dated May 2009 (PDF), that it could “neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of records responsive” to the FOIA request. In June, we sent a letter (PDF) to the CIA appealing their refusal to comply.

Although the U.S.-run detention facility at Bagram has been the focus of widespread media attention and public concern, very little information is publically available about the secrecy-shrouded facility or the prisoners held there. We know that the U.S. government has been detaining prisoners at Bagram since 2002, and recent news reports indicate that more than 600 individuals are currently detained there – some of whom have been held for as long as six years without access to counsel or a meaningful opportunity to challenge their imprisonment. The conditions of confinement at Bagram are reportedly primitive, with allegations of mistreatment and abuse continuing to surface; in fact, at least two prisoners have died there. 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.

There is concern that Bagram has become, in effect, another Guantánamo – except with many more prisoners, less due process, no access to lawyers or courts and reportedly worse conditions. Although the nation is embroiled in an intense public debate about U.S. policy pertaining to the detention and treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody, Americans remain in the dark about even the most basic facts about Bagram. And, 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.

When prisoners are in U.S. custody and under U.S. control – no matter the location – our values and commitment to the rule of law are at stake. Now that President Obama has taken the positive step of ordering Guantánamo shut down, it is critical that we don’t permit ‘other Gitmos’ to continue elsewhere.

To learn more about our FOIA request and see the responses from government agencies, visit:

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