Obama Administration Continues Indefinite Detention Policy For Bagram Prisoners

February 23, 2009 12:00 am

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Government Should Not Maintain “Other Gitmos,” Says ACLU

February 23, 2009

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NEW YORK – The Obama administration told a federal court late Friday that military detainees in Afghanistan have no legal right to challenge their detention. The move, which is a continuation of the Bush administration’s detention policy, comes in a lawsuit filed on behalf of several prisoners who have been indefinitely detained at the Bagram Air Force base for years without trial. The American Civil Liberties Union calls on the new administration to reconsider this troubling position.

“The Obama administration did the right thing by ordering Guantánamo closed. But a restoration of the rule of law and American ideals cannot be achieved if we allow ‘other Gitmos’ to be maintained around the globe,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “Detainees at Bagram, like at Guantánamo, are under U.S. control and custody. It is therefore the responsibility of the U.S. to ensure that basic fundamental rights apply there. As its review of detention facilities continues, we strongly urge the Obama administration to reconsider this position.”

The detention facility at Bagram was set up by the U.S. military after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Like Guantánamo, it was designed to be out of the reach of U.S. courts – a legal black hole – during the so-called “war on terror,” which lacks geographical or durational boundaries. Like Guantánamo, Bagram holds individuals from all over the world, including locations where there are no combat operations taking place. Like Guantánamo, Bagram holds terrorism suspects who were not captured on the battlefield and has imprisoned victims of the Bush administration’s illegal extraordinary rendition program. And like with Guantánamo, there are well-documented reports of serious prisoner mistreatment and torture at Bagram. But in some ways, Bagram is perhaps even worse than Guantánamo because there is less judicial oversight, process and public scrutiny.

“If we’ve learned anything from Guantánamo, it’s that U.S.-run indefinite detention facilities cannot be beyond the reach of the courts, left only to the political branches to oversee,” said Romero. “It is not permissible for Bagram to be a Constitution-free zone any more than it is for Guantánamo, and we need judicial oversight to ensure that Guantánamo doesn’t happen again. Closing Guantánamo is not enough if we repeat its policies elsewhere.”

In the landmark case Boumediene v. Bush, the Supreme Court rejected the Bush administration’s position that the detainees held at Guantánamo had no right to challenge the legality of their detention in U.S. courts. That same right must be extended to the roughly 600 detainees held in U.S. custody at Bagram, many of whom have been held for years without access to legal counsel or the courts.

Three of the ACLU’s clients in its rendition lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan were at some point held at Bagram: Bisher al-Rawi, Binyam Mohamed and Mohamed Bashmilah. Al-Rawi and Mohamed were later transferred to Guantánamo, and Mohamed was recently released. Mohammed Jawad, whom the ACLU represents in a Guantánamo habeas corpus challenge, was also held at Bagram and subjected to abusive interrogations.

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