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ACLU Sues for Info on Bagram Detainees

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September 22, 2009

This morning, we filed a lawsuit to enforce our April 2009 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information about Bagram detainees. We’re looking for basic information, such as how many people are imprisoned at Bagram, who they are, how long they’ve been detained, and where and under what circumstances they were captured. We are also requesting records about the rules and policies that govern Bagram detentions, the process for prisoners to challenge their detention, and the conditions of confinement. So far, the agencies we requested the information from—the Departments of Justice, State, Defense and the CIA—have been less than forthcoming.

According to news reports, the military is holding more than 600 detainees at Bagram, and that includes not only Afghan citizens captured in Afghanistan, but also an unknown number of foreign nationals captured outside of Afghanistan and brought to Bagram. Some of these prisoners have been detained for as long as six years without access to lawyers, have been tortured, and only recently have been permitted any contact with their families. At least two Bagram prisoners have died while in U.S. custody, and Army investigators have classified those deaths as homicides.

Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, said in a statement today: “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 may exist.”

Last month, Marine Maj. Gen. Doug Stone called for the release of most Bagram detainees, saying “there is little evidence against them and they pose no threat.”

And earlier this month, President Obama released guidelines that will give Bagram detainees more of an opportunity to challenge their detention before a military panel, although Bagram detainees will still have no access to lawyers or to courts. The New York Times opined about this change, and the state of detainee rights at Bagram yesterday, writing: “There is ample reason to question whether the new protections are sufficient, especially for existing prisoners already held for long periods on stale evidence.”

Jonathan Hafetz, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, said today: “President Obama’s pledge to shut down Guantánamo will be an empty gesture if we only replace it with ‘other Gitmos’ elsewhere.”

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