International human rights officials toured the new US detention facility in Parwan, Afghanistan, at the edge of Bagram Air Base Nov. 15. The new facility, which has room for 1,400 detainees, is part of the Obama administration‘s wider efforts to improve its Afghan detainee system and will eventually be controlled by the Afghan government. In a US Embassy press release, officials promised greater transparency based on a case management system, which will allow detainees to be informed of the charges against them and provide them with the right to challenge government witnesses. Amnesty International and other human rights groups called on the Obama administration to make sure its detention policy conforms to international law.
Last week, Human Rights First urged the US to reform its detention policy at Bagram. In September, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit seeking information related to the treatment of prisoners at Bagram, citing fears that is becoming the “new Guantánamo.” Earlier that month, the Obama administration issued new guidelines allowing Bagram detainees to challenge their indefinite incarceration. Detainees will have access to members of the US military who would be able to gather classified evidence and question witnesses on behalf of any detainee challenging his detention. The military officials would not be lawyers, but they are expected to provide detainees, some of whom have been held for more than five years without charges, better representation before military-appointed review boards.
The changes come amidst ongoing protests by prisoners. Hundreds of Bagram detainees have been refusing shower and exercise time and have ceased participation in a family visits and teleconferences program set up by the International Committee of the Red Cross. (Jurist, Nov. 16)
See our last posts on Afghanistan and the detainment scandal.
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Bagram “black site” revelaed
One of the very first actions Barack Obama took after swearing in as President of the United States in January was signing an order to eliminate “black sites” run by the CIA. According to a new report, a detention camp in Afghanistan run by military Special Operations forces was not closed.
The New York Times reports Nov. 29 that inmates are being held, often for weeks at a time, in windowless concrete cells at Bagram Air Base. Former detainees told the Times their only human contact was at twice-daily interrogations.
When the former detainees were held there, Pentagon policy allowed the military to obtain extensions, but in August the administration restricted the amount of time detainees could be held at military jails to two weeks.
Jonathan Horowitz, a human rights researcher with the Open Society Institute, told the Times, “Holding people in what appears to be incommunicado detention runs against the grain of the administration’s commitment to greater transparency, accountability, and respect for the dignity of Afghans.” (Raw Story, Nov. 29)