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What Is the Government Hiding About Bagram Detainees?

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March 11, 2010

Today, we asked a federal court to order the government to stop suppressing key information about the prisoners detained at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

The development comes in our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeking records related to the detention and treatment of prisoners at Bagram.

Since 2002, the U.S. has detained thousands of people at Bagram, in harsh conditions and without access to lawyers or courts. Currently, approximately 750 people are detained at Bagram. But the government has kept secret the most basic facts about these prisoners.

In January, the Defense Department released a list of the people imprisoned at the notorious detention facility. The list contains the names of 645 prisoners who were detained there as of September 2009, but other vital information including their citizenship, how long they have been held, in what country they were captured and the circumstances of their capture has been redacted. The brief we filed today charges the Defense Department with improperly withholding these basic facts.

Today’s filing also asks the court to order the CIA, also a defendant in our lawsuit, to process our FOIA request. Shortly after we filed the request, the CIA sent us a letter refusing to process the request, claiming it cannot acknowledge whether it has Bagram-related rendition and interrogation records — even though its rendition of prisoners to Bagram and its interrogation of prisoners there is acknowledged and well-known.

Americans remain in the dark about even the most basic facts about the prisoners at Bagram and what happens at this notoriously secretive prison. And while the Defense Department took a step in the right direction when it released a list of the names of Bagram prisoners, as long as the government continues to suppress other vital information about Bagram prisoners, there is no way of knowing if prisoners are being held for excessively long periods of time or if they should even be there at all.

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. We hope the court will order the government to stop hiding this vital information.