OT:OT:OT:NO MS:NO HURT USA:Where did the guys who championed human rights go

Published on Wednesday, March 1, 2006 by the Inter Press Service
Bagram - 'Son of Guantánamo'
by William Fisher

NEW YORK - The existence of the prison, located at Bagram airbase near
Kabul, was reported last week by The New York Times. But the story was
quickly relegated to back pages by the revelation that Dubai Ports World
(DPW), a company owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, was
about to take over the management of as many as six major U.S. seaports.

On the Bagram prison issue, the views of David Cole, one of the United
States' foremost authorities on constitutional law, are typical of reactions
obtained by IPS.

Cole, a professor at Georgetown University law school in Washington,
said, "The Bagram story raises serious questions about the Bush
administration's unwillingness to be bound by law. The administration chose
Guantánamo in the first place because it thought it was a law-free zone. Now
that the Supreme Court has said that the administration is actually
accountable to legal limits at Guantánamo, it is turning to other avenues to
avoid accountability. The only real solution is to conform its conduct to
the law, not to continue to evade legal responsibility for its actions."

Times reporters Tim Golden and Eric Schmitt, who broke the Bagram
story, wrote: "Some administration officials acknowledge that the situation
at Bagram has increasingly come to resemble the legal void that led to a
landmark Supreme Court ruling in June 2004 affirming the right of prisoners
at Guantánamo to challenge their detention in United States courts."

They added, "Bagram has operated in rigorous secrecy since it opened
in 2002. It bars outside visitors except for the international Red Cross and
refuses to make public the names of those held there".

"From the accounts of former detainees, military officials and
soldiers who served there, a picture emerges of a place that is in many ways
rougher and more bleak than its Cuban counterpart. Men are held by the dozen
in large wire cages, the detainees and military sources said, sleeping on
the floor on foam mats and, until about a year ago, often using plastic
buckets for latrines. Before recent renovations, they rarely saw daylight
except for brief visits to a small exercise yard."

The Times reported that the detainee population at Bagram rose from
about 100 prisoners at the start of 2004 to as many as 600 at times last
year, according to military figures. This was in part the result of a Bush
administration decision to shut off the flow of detainees into Guantánamo
after the Supreme Court ruled that those prisoners had some basic
due-process rights under U.S. law.

Bagram has often been described by the U.S. military as a temporary
"screening centre" from which some detainees would be released and others
transferred to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But as Guantánamo became a lightning
rod for worldwide criticism of Bush administration detention policies,
transfers to Cuba were cancelled.

William Rugh, retired U.S. ambassador to Yemen and the United Arab
Emirates, told IPS that, while he has "no idea if the report is correct", he
believes that "all prisoners held by the United States, whether in
Guantánamo or elsewhere, ought to be brought promptly to trial of some kind
and afforded the right to be represented by an attorney."

"If the U.S. government persuades the judge that material evidence to
be presented at the trial is legitimately classified, the trial could be
closed to the public -- but there should be a trial," he said.

The views of the U.S. human rights community were typified by Deborah
Pearlstein, director of the U.S. Law and Security Programme for Human Rights
First, a major advocacy group.

She told IPS, "Apart from the ongoing harms to human rights, one of
the most remarkable features of the U.S. detentions at Bagram and elsewhere
is that four and a half years after Sept. 11, the administration continues
to hold nearly 15,000 detainees worldwide without rights recognised under
any domestic or international legal regime, and without a plan for how it
might begin detaining people legally in what the administration now calls
the 'long war' going forward."

And a representative of Amnesty International USA commented to IPS
that "Because of ongoing and unresolved reports of torture and ill-treatment
at Bagram Air Base, we continue to assert the necessity for open and honest
investigations of all prisoner abuse cases and renovations of current prison
facilities. We are concerned about reports that the base has been expanding
in its current form, primarily because practices of secrecy such as the
restriction of access to the International Committee of the Red Cross and
the denial of detainees' rights are still known to be prevalent there."

Noah S. Leavitt, who served on the International Law Commission of the
United Nations in Geneva and the International Court of Justice in The
Hague, took issue with the U.S. military's chief spokesman in Afghanistan,
who is quoted as saying the U.S. is "providing the best possible living
conditions and medical care in accordance with the principles of the Geneva

That statement, Leavitt charged, "highlights the administration's
ignorance of or cavalier attitude toward long-established international

"The world will always be in catch-up mode when it comes to
investigating, discovering and challenging the many ways the Bush
administration has undermined international legal norms. Just as they did
for Guantánamo, concerned lawyers, journalists and researchers will have to
figure out how to gain access to Bagram in order to bring the harsh
treatment of the prisoners to the attention of the U.S. judicial system and
the international community before any improvements are seen," he added.

Leaders of the religious community have also weighed in on the Bagram
issue. George Hunsinger, McCord professor of theology at Princeton
Theological Seminary and coordinator of Church Folks for a Better America,
told IPS, "America must lead by example. If we continue to shame our country
through secret prisons, torture and abuse, the world will no longer look to
us as a beacon of hope, but as a dungeon of despair. The only way to defeat
terrorism is by upholding our ideals, not by trampling on them."

Meanwhile, in a related development, a new round of reviews of the
Guantánamo Bay detainees is set to begin. But attorneys say the U.S.
government is flouting military and international law by preventing any
meaningful consideration of proposed evidence and denying information to the
detainees' attorneys.

Experts from the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which is
currently overseeing 450 pro-bono attorneys representing the detainees,
expressed "outrage about this violation of due process" and pointed to a new
federal court decision vindicating their calls for transparent and fair

Last week, a U.S. District Judge ordered the Defense Department to
release the names of hundreds of Guantánamo detainees and uncensored
transcripts of their hearings by Mar. 3.The CCR called the ruling "a major
blow to the government's attempts to maintain total secrecy over its
detainment process". The Pentagon has said it will comply.
Copyright © 2006 IPS-Inter Press Service


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