September 22, 2009

Documents Would Shed Light On Detention And Treatment Of Prisoners At U.S. Detention Center In Afghanistan

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

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeking the disclosure of documents related to the detention and treatment of prisoners at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. According to the complaint, the government should promptly make public the Bagram records, including a list of vital information about detainees being held there, the rules that govern the facility and documents pertaining to the conditions of confinement and status review process afforded prisoners. 

"There is growing concern that Bagram has become the new Guantánamo – except with hundreds more prisoners, held indefinitely in reportedly harsher conditions, with no access to lawyers or courts," said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "Yet the public is still in the dark when it comes to basic facts such as whom our military is holding there, for how long and on what grounds, and the rules that govern their detention, release and treatment. 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."

The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU and the New York Civil Liberties Union in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against the Departments of Defense, Justice and State and the CIA, aims to enforce a FOIA request for the Bagram records filed by the ACLU in April. 

In response to the ACLU's original request, the CIA stated that it could "neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of records responsive" to the request. In a separate response, the Defense Department 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, including their names, citizenship, length of detention and capture location. However, the Defense Department has refused to make public any portions of the list, claiming national security and privacy concerns. The Departments of Justice and State originally agreed to expedite processing of the ACLU's request, but have yet to produce any records.
 
Recent news reports suggest that the U.S. government is detaining more than 600 individuals at Bagram, including 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 counsel 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 concluded that the deaths were homicides.

"More information about detention conditions at Bagram is essential to informing the ongoing congressional and public debate about U.S. detention policy," said Jonathan Hafetz, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "President Obama's pledge to shut down Guantánamo will be an empty gesture if we only replace it with 'other Gitmos' elsewhere."

Lawyers on the lawsuit are Goodman and Hafetz of the ACLU National Security Project and Christopher Dunn and Arthur Eisenberg of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

More information about the ACLU's FOIA lawsuit, including today's complaint, is available online at: www.aclu.org/bagram

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