Is Bagram Obama’s Guantánamo?

Monday, March 02, 2009
Bagram "Sally Port" Transfer Cage

President Obama’s lawyers announced last month that he will be upholding Bush administration policy that forbids detainees imprisoned at a U.S. air base in Afghanistan from challenging their imprisonment in U.S. courts. This action raises the possibility that Obama is planning to deal with the remaining Guantánamo detainees by transferring them to Bagram.

In January, U.S. District Judge John Bates gave the new administration an opportunity to review its position in cases involving four detainees incarcerated at the Bagram prison, located about 30 miles north of Kabul. They are seeking the same rights as prisoners held at the naval base in Guantánamo, more than 200 of whom are challenging their detention under habeas corpus proceedings in U.S. District Courts. 
Unlike most of the 600 inmates at Bagram, who were seized in combat on the battlefield, these four were captured outside of Afghanistan or any other war zone, shipped to Afghanistan, and held in custody at Bagram for years without charges.
After 9/11, the Bush administration argued that the whole world was a battlefield during the “war on terror,” and that all counter-terrorism efforts were in fact military actions. They stretched the argument and determined that all “enemy combatants” can be detained indefinitely even if they are far away from any traditional battlefield, and even if they are not directly engaged in hostilities.
Although reports have shown that conditions at Bagram are even worse than those at Guantánamo, the detention facility in Afghanistan, which is closed to journalists, human rights activists and lawyers, has not received as much attention and pressure from the outside world. In some instances, the abuse of prisoners has been so extreme that it has led to deaths, as was revealed in the Academy Award-winning documentary, Taxi To The Dark Side. The film includes interviews with American soldiers who committed acts of torture and have since experienced remorse.
While the number of detainees at Guantánamo has shrunk to about 245, Bagram has added more than 100 prisoners since 2005, according to the Defense Department. There are also plans for a $60 million expansion that would nearly double the prison’s capacity.
Despite his widely praised pledge to close down Guantánamo, Obama’s passive stance on Bagram is worrisome, especially since his administration has shown no signs that it will change in the future. 
Obama Administration on Detention Policy: What He Said (by Christopher Weaver, ProPublica)
Obama Stays the Course on Bagram (by Joe Palazzolo, Legal Times)


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