Federal Court Rules Bagram Prisoners have Fewer Rights than those at Guantánamo

Friday, December 27, 2013
Bagram black prison (photo: Department of the Army)

When it comes to being held indefinitely without trial, a detainee is better off at Guantánamo Bay than at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan. That’s because a federal court has ruled prisoners at the sprawling Bagram installation controlled by the United States have fewer legal rights than their counterparts in Cuba.


The ruling (pdf) came after five enemy combatants confined at Bagram filed habeas corpus petitions with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to challenge their detention.


Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson and two other justices decided that the five prisoners “were beyond the reach of the U.S. Constitution, unlike the men held at Guantánamo Bay,” according to Michael Doyle at McClatchy.


Henderson said Guantánamo resides outside “a theater of war,” which allows detainees there to enjoy certain legal rights in the U.S. judicial system.


But with Bagram being part of the U.S. “war with a determined enemy,” prisoners at the base are considered enemy combatants, placing them in a different legal category.


Not all of the appellants were captured in Afghanistan, however. Some were seized in Thailand, Iraq and Pakistan.


Nevertheless, the judges were reluctant to make any ruling that interfered with the American military mission in Afghanistan.


“The United Sates in Afghanistan is not involved merely in administering occupied territory and containing scattered guerrilla fighters, but rather in quelling a large-scale insurgency against the government of a regional ally,” the ruling stated, adding that “orders issued by judges thousands of miles away would undercut the commanders’ authority.”


Furthermore, the courts generally avoid stepping on the toes of the executive and legislative branches when it comes to warfare, Henderson noted.


“The prosecution of our wars is committed uniquely to the political branches and we rarely scrutinize it,” she wrote.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Court Rejects Bagram Prisoners, Again (by Michael Doyle, McClatchy)

Fadi Al Maqaleh v. Chuck Hagel (U.S. District Court, District of Columbia) (pdf)

Is the U.S. Prison in Afghanistan an Overlooked Version of Guantánamo? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Judge Rules Bagram Prisoners Have Rights in U.S. Courts (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Is Bagram Obama’s Guantánamo? (AllGov)


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