NEW YORK (IPS/GIN) – An investigation by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has uncovered allegations that former detainees at the U.S. Bagram airbase in Afghanistan were beaten, deprived of sleep and threatened with dogs.
The BBC’s findings are based on interviews with 27 former detainees who were held at Bagram between 2002 and 2006. None of these men were ever charged with a crime. Hundreds of detainees are still being held in U.S. custody at the Afghan prison without charge or trial.
Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, told IPS, “The BBC investigation provides further confirmation of the United States’ mistreatment of prisoners at Bagram.”
“These abuses are the direct consequence of decisions made at the highest levels of the U.S. government to avoid the Geneva Convention and forsake the rule of law. For too long, the unlawful detention and mistreatment of prisoners at Bagram has gone on outside the public eye,” he said. “Hopefully, this investigation will help change that.”
“When prisoners are in American custody and under American control, no matter the location, our values and commitment to the rule of law are at stake,” Mr. Hafetz said.
In April, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records pertaining to the detention and treatment of prisoners held at Bagram, including the number of people currently detained, their names, citizenship, place of capture and length of detention.
The ACLU is also seeking records pertaining to the process afforded those prisoners to challenge their detention and designation as “enemy combatants.”
“The U.S. government’s detention of hundreds of prisoners at Bagram has been shrouded in complete secrecy,” said Melissa Goodman, an ACLU staff attorney.
Amnesty International said it was “shocked” by the Bagram claims. It noted that a new detention center is currently under construction at the camp.
Another prominent human rights organization, the British-based Reprieve, called on the British government to take action concerning two Pakistanis who it says the U.K. helped render there from Iraq.
“The legal black hole in Bagram underlines the British government’s moral black hole when it comes to rendering two Pakistani prisoners there in 2004,” said Clive Stafford Smith, director of Reprieve. “These men were in British custody in Iraq, were turned over to the U.S., and have now been held for five years without any respect for their legal rights.”
In February 2009, British Defense Secretary John Hutton announced to the House of Commons that Britain had handed two anonymous Pakistani men over to the U.S., and they had subsequently been rendered to Afghanistan, where they were still being held.
No prisoner in Bagram has been allowed to see a lawyer, or challenge his detention. According to the BBC, the U.S. Justice Department argues that because Afghanistan is an active combat zone it is not possible to conduct rigorous inquiries into individual cases and that it would divert precious military resources at a crucial time.
“These men were never in Afghanistan until the U.K. and the U.S. took them there,” said Mr. Stafford Smith. “It is the height of hypocrisy to take someone to Bagram and then claim that it is too dangerous to let them see a lawyer. Even GuantÃ¡namo Bay is better than this.”
The Pentagon has denied the BBC‘s charges of harsh treatment and insisted that all inmates in the facility are treated humanely.
The Bagram Airbase built by the Soviet military in the 1980s. The approximately 600 people held there are classified as “unlawful enemy combatants.” None was charged with any offence or put on trial–some even received apologies when they were released.