Bagram: "Guantánamo's twin"

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An ongoing crime of U.S. imperialism.  Who should be behind bars?

By Kenneth J. Theisen

One of the ongoing crimes of the U.S. government is the existence and running of the U.S. military prison at the notorious Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.  Like the better known Guantánamo Prison known as Gitmo, the Bagram prison is a hell hole where prisoners of the U.S. war of terror are held. These prisoners face torture, death and other human rights abuses. They are denied fundamental legal rights including the right to challenge their incarceration, known as habeas corpus...

When Obama came into office one of the first charades he conducted was to state that he would shut Gitmo. Of course now almost two years later, Gitmo is still up and running with no deadline for its closure anywhere in site.  Gitmo has received media attention on a regular, though diminishing basis. But Bagram gets little attention from the media.  And in the case of the Bagram prison the Obama administration has not even pretended to close it. In fact the U.S. military has built new facilities at the prison with millions secured by the Obama administration from Congress. It has also been engaged in a relentless court battle to "legally" justify its ongoing crimes there. The administration openly contends that it can hold prisoners of the war of terror there indefinitely and also deny the prisoners due process rights.

The ACLU has been fighting for the legal rights of the Bagram prisoners.  On February 18, 2011 in one of its cases it filed its opposition to the U.S. government's motion to dismiss its case challenging the illegal detention of Zia-ur-Rahman, an Afghan citizen held for over two years at Bagram.

According to the Director of the ACLU National Security Project Hina Shamsi, "In key ways, Bagram has become Guantánamo's twin. The government should not hold detainees at Bagram indefinitely and without a fair process. The courts have a critical role to play in ensuring that the government detains people at Bagram only in accordance with the rule of law. Indefinite detention is unlawful, un-American and a stain on our reputation in the world."

The ACLU contends that Rahman, who was seized from his home by the U.S. military during a massive neighborhood sweep, has never engaged in hostilities against the U.S. and was not a part of any group that engaged in hostilities against the U.S.  He has been held without charge, without access to counsel and without a meaningful opportunity to challenge his detention in a court or through an independent and impartial administrative process.

The Obama lawyers assert that the federal courts do not even have the legal right to review the government's crimes at Bagram. They contend that prisoners held in Afghanistan are beyond the reach of legal rights afforded to prisoners. If this sounds like arguments made by the Bush regime about Gitmo, it should as they are the same B.S. put out by Bush's lawyers.

The Obama administration has created the charade of "reviewing" prisoners' status to see if they should be continued to be held at Bagram.  But these reviews are nothing more than kangaroo proceedings. The proceedings do not provide adequate notice of the basis for detention; they bar detainees' access to counsel; they base detention decisions on secret evidence and do not afford detainees a meaningful opportunity to defend themselves; and they deny meaningful review by a judge or truly independent and impartial tribunal.  Each of these is a denial of basic legal rights as required by domestic and international law.

In addition, according to the ACLU's pleadings, "the procedures vest unfettered discretion in the Commander of Bagram's detention operations, including the authority to overturn U.S. military officials' recommendation that a detainee be released. So even if a review should recommend a release, that decision can be overturned by a higher military official. The bottom line is that prisoners can be held indefinitely without any meaningful due process.

Of course the Obama administration would have us believe that only dangerous terrorists intent on killing Americans are held at Bagram. This is the tale the Bush regime told us about Gitmo too. But who are these so-called terrorists that must be held forever without any legal rights?

According to the ACLU pleadings, "Zia-ur-Rahman is a 27-year-old food merchant who lived with his family near Jalalabad."  On December 8, 2008, he was at home celebrating Eid-al-Fitr, the festival marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, when he was kidnapped by U.S. forces conducting a nighttime neighborhood raid.  In that raid, approximately 100 homes were searched and many fellow community members were also kidnapped along with Mr. Rahman.  He was never told by the U.S. forces why he was being kidnapped, nor did they tell his family where he was being taken. For three months his family tried unsuccessfully to discover his whereabouts. Eventually the International Red Cross told his family that he was being held at Bagram. To date his family still does not know why he is being held.  Many other Bagram prisoners and their families have similar tales. This is part and parcel of the U.S. war of terror. In some ways Mr. Rahman was lucky as many others, including entire families, are murdered in these night-time terror raids conducted by the U.S. forces.

The U.S. government has not even attempted to justify Mr. Rahman's detention before the federal court where it is seeking to dismiss the case.  In the Obama's administration motion to dismiss, it discloses only that Mr. Rahman's detention has been reviewed by a Detainee Review Board and it contends that "the criteria for internment have been met and that Petitioner is lawfully detained pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force as informed by the law of war."  In other words we need to just take the word of our government that it is following "the law of war." 

But what law is that?  Is that the law that allows the president to order assassinations without any restrictions? Is that the law that has allowed Obama, and Bush before, him to launch hundreds of missile attacks into Pakistan and other nations regardless of international law?  Is that the law that excused kidnappings, tortures, and murders known as extraordinary rendition?  Is that the law that let Bush, Cheney, Rice, Powell, Rumsfeld and other high-level officials set up a torture regime with meetings conducted in the White House to discuss methods of allowable torture?  Maybe that is the "law of war" that allows the U.S. to invade countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan and to then set up puppet governments while continuing to occupy the nations and killing its residents. The only "law of war" followed by the U.S. imperialists is the law of expansion and self-preservation of their empire.

Bagram and the other crimes mentioned above are just a small part of the ongoing crime of empire.  They were conducted under Bush and now under Obama.  The Bush regime officials must be held accountable, and so should their successors under the Obama administration.  Crimes are crimes, regardless of who commits them.  But instead of high-level government officials being held behind bars, we have innocent victims like Zia-ur-Rahman behind bars.  Why?

The ACLU brief  which details the ongoing crimes at Bagram can be viewed here:

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This page contains a single entry published on February 24, 2011 3:41 PM.

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