Bagram Air Base
The nonprofit human rights law firm Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) released a report on Sept. 5 detailing the conditions at Bagram Prison in Afghanistan, a facility that continues to detain non-Afghan prisoners of the US despite not being under US control since March. According to the JPP, many of these detainees are being held indefinitely without charges, trial or access to a lawyer. Many prisoners have testified to being captured and held in the prison without ever being told about the basis for their detainment.
London-based Public Interest Lawyers on May 29 accused the UK military of holding at least eight men without charge at the UK temporary holding facility in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. Their clients have allegedly been held for over eight months without charge and without access to lawyers in what could be a breach of international law. Applications for habeas corpus were issued on behalf of two of the men in April, and the military has ordered a hearing in July. UK Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond insisted that the holdings are in compliance with international law and that there are regular inspections by the International Committee of the Red Cross. He explained that standard military procedures, which required the detainees to be released to Afghan forces after 96 hours, were changed in November due to suspicions about the use of torture on prisoners by the Afghan forces. According to the Ministry of Defence, the detainees are being held in Camp Bastion until a safe path through the Afghan system could be assured.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian detained at Guantánamo since August 2002, had portions of his handwritten prison-camp memoir published in Slate on April 30. Slahi wrote the 466-page journal from 2005-2006, and it has just become unclassified, although many sections are redacted. Slahi mostly grew up in Germany and went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet-backed regime in 1990, where he apparently fell in with al-Qaeda. He repudiated al-Qaeda in 1992 and returned to Germany to study, later moving to Canada. In 2001 back in Mauritania, he was detained "for questioning" by police at US behest—and promptly renditioned to Jordan. There, he was tortured for months on suspicion of involvement in the 2000 "Millennium Plot"—on the specious grounds that a member of his Montreal mosque was caught with plot-related explosives. The Jordanians concluded he wasn't involved, but the US sent him to Bagram and then to Guantánamo. That's when the nightmare really began.
The US gave full control of Bagram Prison to Afghanistan on March 25, winding down the US military presence in the country. President Hamid Karzai sought to regain control of the detention center in efforts to reclaim sovereignty over the country, as the US prepares to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. The US was concerned that turning over the prison would put the secure detention of suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda members at risk. The official handing over of control to Afghan authorities took place after an agreement was reached during a phone call between US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Karzai on March 23. US Secretary of State John Kerry made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan in an attempt to strengthen the relationship between the two countries.
Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai said Nov. 18 that US forces were capturing and holding Afghans in violation of a detainee transfer pact and that US forces should turn over that responsibility to Karzai's forces. Karzai's statement urged Afghan officials to make efforts towards toward obtaining entire responsibility for Bagram Prison. Listed abuses included Afghan detainees held by US forces despite Afghan rulings to the contrary and the continued arrest of Afghans by US forces. The statement comes less than a week after negotiations began on a bilateral security agreement that will govern US military presence in the country after the majority of US troops withdraw from Afghanistan after 2014. The US has delayed the handover of detention facilities to Afghanistan citing both lack of preparation by Afghan leaders in detention center management and discrepancies over treatment of detainees the US deems too dangerous to release. Both countries agreed to sign the bilateral security agreement within a year.
On Sept. 11, just one day after the prison at Bagram Air Base outside Kabul was officially handed over the Afghan forces, the air base came under insurgent fire, destroying a NATO Chinook CH-47 transport helicopter. Days earlier, four teen-age youths riding skateboards in Kabul were among six killed in a suicide bombing in central Kabul. The attack may have targeted the nearby NATO headquarters, but the youths were part of a nonprofit program that runs a skateboard school for Kabul kids, called Skateistan. (LAT, Sept. 12; NYT, CSM, Sept. 11; CBS, Sept. 10)
Government officials from both the US and Afghanistan have said that the US military will maintain control over foreign detainees at Bagram Air Base for the indefinite future, and will also continue holding and screening newly captured Afghans. According to the New York Times, the US commitment to the control and maintenance of dozens of foreign prisoners comes despite preparing to hand over its detention operations to the Afghan government on Sept. 9, as agreed to in a pact in March in the prelude to the countries' Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement (text, PDF). Given that the March pact covered only the 3,100 Afghan detainees at the time of its enactment, there has been relative uncertainty as to the fate of the additional 600 detainees added to Bagram since the signing. While concerns of arbitrary detentions have been raised by the Afghan government, namely that the agreement's no-trial detention system is contrary to Afghanistan's constitution (text, PDF), William Lietzau, the Pentagon's top detainee policy official, maintains that the system is lawful as long as the war continues. The Afghan government has refused to ratify the Bagram agreement.