Afghanistan: new Bagram rules “step in wrong direction”?

Human rights activists and legal experts reacted swiftly Sept. 14 to disclosures that the US government is planning to introduce new measures officials claim would give inmates at Afghanistan’s notorious Bagram prison more opportunities to challenge their detention. Their views range from cautious optimism to total condemnation.

There are some 600-plus prisoners being held at the US military facility near Kabul. Some have been held for years without lawyers or any charge filed against them. There have been many allegations involving the torture of prisoners. Critics also charge that President Barack Obama has been turning Bagram into a new Guantanamo Bay, since terror suspects are no longer being sent to Gitmo because of plans to close it in January.

The new guidelines expected to be issued by the Defense Department would assign a non-lawyer military official to each detainee. They would be tasked to gather exculpatory witnesses and evidence to present before review boards to be appointed by the US military.

Currently, these detainees—some of whom have been imprisoned for more than six years—do not have access to lawyers and have no right to hear the allegations against them. Their status as “enemy combatants” is theoretically reviewed periodically by military panels, but critics say these reviews are incomplete, prejudiced and ineffective.

Tina Monshipour Foster, executive director of the International Justice Network, a legal advocacy group that represents four Bagram detainees in a pending federal court case, called the proposed changes “a step in the wrong direction.” She told Huffington Post: “No set of procedures will have legitimacy until there is transparency and accountability for any violations of the military’s own rules. Preventing the accused from having contact with his lawyer is antithetical to any legitimate system of justice.”

She said the first step should be to allow the detainees access to actual lawyers. Anything less, she said, “only invites rule-breaking, and casts doubt over the legitimacy of any proceedings that may be going on behind closed doors.”

“The ‘new’ procedures adopted by the Obama administration are not new at all; they appear to be exactly the same as the procedures created by the Bush administration in response to prior court challenges by Guantanamo detainees,” she added. (William Fisher for Huffington Post, Sept. 14)

See our last posts on Afghanistan and the detainment scandal.

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