By Kenneth J. Theisen
On January 9, 2010 the United States and the Karzai Afghan puppet government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which allegedly will turn over the operation of the U.S. military prison at Bagram, Afghanistan to Karzai’s government. This move is meant to deny the prisoners their legal rights.
Bagram currently holds about 750 prisoners of the U.S. war of terror. About 30 of these prisoners are non-Afghan citizens, many of whom were captured outside of Afghanistan and then transferred to Bagram to deny them their legal rights. The transfer of control is supposed to happen “within months” according to the announcement of the MOU. But this latest move has little to do with empowering the people of Afghanistan and everything to do with the U.S. government attempting to avoid responsibility for the ongoing crimes committed at Bagram.
The U.S.-run prison located at Bagram was created shortly after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Prisoners there have faced death, torture, and other forms of abuse at the hands of the U.S. jailers. The abuse has been so pervasive that the U.S. government has even been forced to bring charges against some U.S. personnel, but no high-level officials have been held accountable in criminal courts.
Human rights organizations and others have compared conditions at Bagram to those at the U.S.-run prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. There are many similarities, but in many ways Bagram is worse. Detainees in Bagram are not given lawyers or trials. The U.S. even refuses to provide a list of prisoners held there. A number of Bagram prisoners have been murdered. The Obama administration has gone out of its way to deny prisoners basic legal rights, including the right to habeas corpus.
Non-Afghan Bagram detainees have challenged their detention in U.S. federal court.
But the Obama administration has argued to the court that the prisoners have no right to have their cases heard in civilian courts. Obama’s attorneys allege that the federal court have no jurisdiction over non-US citizens being held in a “foreign war zone.” This was the same argument put forward by Bush regime lawyers in their unsuccessful attempt to keep Gitmo prisoners from having their cases addressed in U.S. federal courts.
Obama’s Department of Justice (DOJ) argues that Gitmo is legally different because it is a U.S. territory "under the complete jurisdiction and control" of the U.S., while Bagram is on legally sovereign Afghan territory in an "active theatre of war". This transfer of “control” to the puppet Afghan government is part of the Obama administration maneuvers to keep the Bagram prisoners from having their cases heard in the U.S. courts. The government also fears the effect that revelations in court of the abuses at Bagram will have on public opinion.
Last year the Obama government created a system that allegedly allowed Bagram detainees to contest their detention assisted by "personal representatives" from the U.S. military. This was supposed to afford the prisoners their legal rights, even though the representatives were not attorneys and they were also employed by the same military that held the prisoners. This was very similar to Bush regime’s kangaroo proceedings under the Military Commissions Act. It was also an attempt to avoid having the prisoners’ cases heard in federal court.
The transfer of “control” of the prison to the Afghan government is an illusion. Putting aside the fact that the Karzai government is solely a creation of the U.S., it also ignores the fact that the prison is entirely contained within the vast U.S. military base at Bagram. Bagram Air Field is home to about 24,000 U.S. military personnel and civilian contractors. It is located on 5000 acres in Parwan Province. It is central to Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan and currently handles 400 tons of cargo each day and 1000 plus passengers.
These numbers will grow as the war escalates under Obama. The new $60 million Parwan Detention Center was opened recently to replace the original prison that was located in converted aircraft hanger on the base. The new prison is designed to hold 1,000 prisoners.
Many of the prisoners currently held at Bagram have waited six or more years for justice. None have been charges with a crime and not one has been given a trial. They face indefinite incarceration without any real due process. While Obama pledged to shut down Gitmo within a year (a pledge that will be broken as that year expires on January 22nd), Obama actually expanded the hellhole at Bagram. He directs his lawyers to go to court to continue to deny legal rights to the prisoners held there.
We need to expose this “transfer” of control for what it is – a cynical attempt to further the abuse and to provide the denial of rights to the Bagram prisoners. Gitmo, Bagram, and all the other hellholes of the U.S. war of terror must be shut down and the U.S. officials responsible for all the abuses at these prisons must be held accountable.