Wed, Sep 16, 2009 - Page 1 News List

US grants Bagram prisoners right to challenge detention

NO HOPE Unlike those held at Guantanamo Bay, the Bagram inmates have had no access to lawyers and no right to hear the allegations against them


For the first time, the US is granting some 600 prisoners held at a US detention center dubbed Afghanistan’s “Guantanamo” the right to challenge their detention, officials said on Monday.

Some of the men, many of whom have languished for years at the Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, will now be aided by a US military official to gather witnesses and evidence in their cases, the Defense Department said.

They will then be allowed to defend themselves, and even call witnesses before a military body entrusted with reviewing the cases against them.

“It’s basically a review procedure that ensures people go in front of a panel periodically to give them the opportunity to contest their detention,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters.

The inmates would be aided by a uniformed “personal representative” who would “guide them through this administrative process, to help gather witness statements,” Whitman said. “It’s something that we had used in Iraq to help us manage the detainee population and ultimately reduce the detainee population by ensuring that we are only holding those that are the most dangerous threats.”

The Bagram prison has served since 2002 as a holding site for terror suspects captured outside Afghanistan and Iraq.

But unlike the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay — the US naval base in Cuba where some 229 “war on terror” detainees are still held — the Bagram inmates have had no access to lawyers, no right to hear the allegations against them and only rudimentary reviews of their status as “enemy combatants.”

US President Barack Obama’s administration argued in a filing with the US Court of Appeals in Washington late on Monday that terror suspects at Bagram should not be allowed to challenge their decision in US courts, a right the Supreme Court has granted to Guantanamo detainees.

US District Judge John Bates ruled in April that foreign prisoners held at Bagram should also be provided that right.

The administration argued in its 85-page brief that Bates’ ruling “reverses long-standing law, imposes great practical problems, conflicts with the considered judgment of both political branches, and risks opening the federal courts to habeas claims brought by detainees held in other theaters of war during future military actions.”

In July, hundreds of prisoners led protests at Bagram fearing that they would be held indefinitely.

Rights groups including Human Rights Watch cautiously welcomed the decision to grant the inmates the right to contest their detentions.

Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union protested the Pentagon and the CIA’s refusal to supply the names, nationalities and place of arrests of those held in Bagram.

Last month, a top US general called for as many as 400 of the 600 inmates to be released, saying they posed no threat to the US.

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