Bagram Air Base

  • April 14, 2011
    Habeas Corpus after 9/11
    Confronting America's New Global Detention System
    Jonathan Hafetz

    By Jonathan Hafetz, a law professor at Seton Hall Law School who has litigated a number of leading national security habeas corpus cases.  

    Following his inauguration, President Obama ordered the closure of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay within one year. More than two years later, however, Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo is in shambles. More than 170 prisoners remain at Guantanamo, and new legislation makes it extremely difficult to transfer additional prisoners from the naval base. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently called the prospects for closure “very, very low,” and the administration is pressing ahead with new military commission trials at the base. In many ways, the United States is further from closing Guantanamo now than it was after Obama’s inauguration.

    Guantanamo has always been more than a prison. It is also the symbol of a new, alternative detention system that denies prisoners the full protections of America’s criminal justice system. Guantanamo’s continued existence reflects not merely America’s failure to close this notorious prison, but its acceptance of the larger system the prison embodies.

    Even as Obama vowed to close Guantanamo, he indicated that he would continue to use “military commissions,” pledging to reform the fatally flawed war crimes tribunals rather than end them. The administration’s decision to abandon the federal criminal prosecution of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other alleged 9/11 plotters in favor of military commissions demonstrates the power this alternative system exerts over U.S. counter-terrorism policy. Obama has likewise endorsed another key feature of Guantanamo: the indefinite detention of some terrorism suspects without trial. His recent executive order creating a new review board to periodically examine their cases demonstrates how deeply this practice has become institutionalized. The question, in short, is not whether the post-9/11 detention system will continue (it will), but what form it will take and how broadly it will sweep.

  • March 10, 2010
    Guest Post

    By Jonathan Manes, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project

    Most of the opposition to U.S. detention policy since 9/11 has focused on the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay. But for nearly as long, the United States has been operating a prison in Afghanistan that has been, in many ways, Guantánamo's uglier twin. Stories of abuse and mistreatment at the Bagram facility have been all too common. At least two detainees were killed by guards at Bagram, the consequence of repeated beatings and shackling in stress positions.

    Unlike prisoners at Guantánamo, however, whose habeas rights were restored by the Supreme Court in 2008, Bagram prisoners have never had a meaningful and adequate process to challenge their detention. Yet many Bagram prisoners have been held for years, without charge, without access to courts, without access to lawyers, and without even being told why they are being held. And according to official government investigations, reports by nongovernmental organizations, and interviews with former Bagram detainees and their families, many of the detainees at Bagram have never engaged in or been a part of groups engaged in hostilities against the United States. Many were instead originally picked up in the course of night raids, neighborhood sweeps, and cordon-and-search operations. Others were picked up by military forces acting on the basis of flimsy intelligence like anonymous tips from local rivals or business competitors. The risk that people at Bagram are erroneously detained is very high. It is therefore crucial that the people detained there have prompt access to a court or, at the very least, a fair, independent and impartial tribunal that can order their release. Just as with people held at Guantánamo, those imprisoned at Bagram must not be falsely imprisoned for years without charge.

    Last week the ACLU filed habeas petitions on behalf of four people detained at Bagram. One petition is on behalf of two brothers: a 24-year-old Afghan who, until his capture by U.S. forces nearly 20 months ago, served as a translator for the U.S. military for four years, and a 25-year-old customer service representative for an Afghan Internet service provider, who has been imprisoned for nearly two years. The second petition is on behalf of a 61-year-old Afghan government employee, and his 27-year-old nephew, who have been imprisoned at Bagram for more than one year after U.S. forces seized them from their homes. Even though they have already been locked up at Bagram for well over a year (and for some, almost two), the government has never informed our clients of the reasons why they are being detained. Neither do our clients' families have any idea why their relatives are in prison. In fact, it was months after our clients' arrest before their families learned what had become of them.

  • December 4, 2009
    Guest Post

    By Robert Braun, Curtis Isacke, Christine Ku and Hope Metcalf *

    The world breathed a collective sigh of relief when-just days into his administration-President Obama issued a series of executive orders to phase out Guantanamo, end torture, and shutter the Bush-era web of secret prisons.

    But recent revelations indicate that the Administration's actions have failed to match its lofty rhetoric. According to The New York Times and The Washington Post, the Obama administration continues to use the practice of secret detention at facilities such as the recently identified "black jail" located at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

    It is a shocking revelation, not least because of Obama's firm stance against virtually identical practices that occurred under the Bush administration. On the same day that the president called for a winding down of detention operations in Guantanamo Bay nearly a year ago, he ordered the immediate closure of the network of CIA-run "black sites". These secret prisons, where detainees were often held incommunicado before being transferred to other detention facilities or released, saw some of the worst human rights abuses in the "War on Terror." And yet the Obama administration has permitted their apparent reincarnation in Afghanistan. 

    Because the "black jails" in Afghanistan are managed by military Special Operations forces instead of the CIA, their existence does not technically violate Obama's executive order. Still, the maintenance of such facilities almost certainly runs afoul of U.S. commitments under human rights treaties and the Geneva Conventions. And the message to the world is clear: the Obama administration is willing to treat detention as an international shell game.

  • November 30, 2009

    FOIA FAIL: The Supreme Court vacated a ruling requiring the release of detainee abuse photos.

    Next Stop, Charleston?: The South Carolina Attorney General said today that housing Guantanamo detainees at the naval brig near Charleston would put local residents at risk.

    "...Must Be Brought to Justice": In a letter to the Attorney General, the American Bar Association backs federal trials for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other alleged terrorists.

    Sssshhhh, Your Honor: Can federal courts handle classified evidence?

    Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and Now: Bagram has recently been the site of detainee abuse, according to reports by The New York Times and The Washington Post.

  • October 19, 2009

    Following her participation as a panelist at the recent ACS symposium on national security and human rights issues, Hope Metcalf talked with ACSblog about military detention center at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, calling it "essentially a redux of Guantánamo as it was in 2004." Metcalf, a lecturer and project director of the National Litigation Project of the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, said that "Bagram is still a black box - we know very little and the detainees receive very, very little in terms of process, they receive no access to lawyers, no judicial review of any kind ...." A recent editorial in The New York Times maintained that the current administration faces serious challenges "in bringing" the Bagram military detention camp "squarely within the rule of law and fundamental notions of fairness." Watch Metcalf's interview below or download a video podcast here. Video of the ACS symposium on national security and human rights issues is available here.