Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Updates on Bagram // Aafia Siddiqui documents - released February & Just the Facts

Following is the most recent article with excerpts from another in this series of collected recent items on Bagram GO here

Broken Justice at Bagram — for Afghans, and for Foreign Prisoners Held by the US

So what’s happening at Bagram, the main US prison in Afghanistan, which has been wracked by scandals, including a number of murders, and allegations of torture and abuse and since it opened in December 2001?

Unrecognizable since those early days, the prison at Bagram — once housed in a Soviet-era machine shop — is now in an entirely new building, known as the Detention Facility in Parwan. This, according to the Pentagon, is part of a larger Afghan Justice Center in Parwan, which “will become Afghanistan’s central location for the pre-trial detention, prosecution and post-trial incarceration of national security suspects.”

Bagram only occasionally attracts media attention, but in February the prison — in its new location — was officially relaunched as part of America’s revised approach to detention in the Afghan warzone, with more focus on rehabiitation, and less on punishment and isolation. At the time, I was too busy to write about or to cross-post reports by journalists who visited the facility for this relaunch — whose reports were published in the Huffington Post, Stars and Stripes and McClatchy Newspapers — so I thought I’d gather them together here, for anyone else who missed them, as part of my special coverage of Bagram this week. This coverage includes an update to the definitive Bagram prisoner list (the updated prisoner list is here), and “Voices from Bagram,” a three-part series drawing on the Detainee Review Boards at Bagram, and featuring rare examples of the testimony of prisoners.

I was planning to do a clever edit of these three articles, but instead I’m going to content myself with cross-posting them in their entirety, as they all have something to offer. First up is an article in the Huffington Post on February 13 by Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First, looking primarily at the problems with clearing foreign prisoners for release, but then continuing to hold them (something that also has echoes at Guantánamo). This is based on a useful analysis of the work of the Detainee Review Boards, introduced by President Obama in September 2009, which are used to formalize detention at Parwan/Bagram, in a form that is an improvement on the Bush years, but is still problematical, not only because they are not leading to the release of foreign prisoners, thereby undermining their credibility, as Daphne explains, but also because they still bear no resemblance to the Geneva Conventions, which were throughly sidelined by the Bush administration, and are stlll, it seems, missing in action under President Obama.

This article is followed by a McClatchy Newspapers article from February 25, looking primarily at the success of the new, more humane regime at Parwan, but also touching on problems with abuse at the point of capture, and the prisoners’ difficulties when it comes to mounting meaningul challenges to the evidence against them in their Detainee Review Boards, where they do not have access to lawyers, or, in any adequate sense, to the outside world as a whole, where witnesses might be located who would be able to help them.

The concluding article, published in Stars and Stripes on February 21, examines the difficulties of establishing the guilt or innocence of prisoners, again revisiting important questions that need to be raised about the Detainee Review Boards, and about the type of screening that needs to take place in wartime, by focusing on one particular story — that of former Bagram prisoner Ghullam Sarwar Jamili. This is an excellent case study, juggling the many different elements of detention in Afghanistan — in particular, how the Afghans’ hopes of “build[ing] a law-based state, where due process in a courtroom is the basis for incarceration,” clashes with the US approach.

Defending their use of open-ended detention and review boards — despite the fact that they constitute a unilateral abrogation from the Geneva Conventions — US officials appear to be unconcerned that Afghan prosecutors are complaining that they receive nothng more than “vague case files” from intelligence officials at Bagram, provoking doubts that “the right people are landing behind bars” because “the detentions are based more on confidential intelligence than on releasable evidence.”

US officials also appear unconcerned by complaints from “human rights groups, along with the Bagram detainees themselves,” who say that “their inability to adequately refute the claims against them breeds bitter contempt against the Americans.”

As the articles reveal, the physical conditions at Bagram may have improved for the majority of the prisoners held, but complaints remain that America is still operating under an assumption that it can make up rules as it goes along, and that no one is listening when critics — either Afghan officials, or the priosners, or human rights groups — complain that these innovations have not led to fairness, and to success in the crucial arena of winning Afghan hearts and minds, but have, instead, often led to more confusion, resentment and bitterness, and a belief that Bagram and justice are incompatible.

From another article:

Justice Remains Elusive for Many at U.S. Prison in Afghanistan
By Daphne Eviatar, Huffington Post, February 13, 2011
In the summer of 2008, the United States military captured a 16-year-old Pakistani boy and imprisoned him at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan. According to his lawyers, for over a year his family had no idea where he was. When he was finally allowed to speak to relatives nearly two years later due to intervention by the Red Cross, Hamidullah Khan told his brother that he had had a hearing in the U.S. prison. The U.S. military judges had admitted lacking any evidence against him and recommended he be returned home to his family in Pakistan. Months later, he remains imprisoned at the U.S. detention facility in Afghanistan...

...U.S. officials say they have no choice but to hold suspected Afghan militants like Jamili without formal charges. In a time of war, they say, it’s the only way to keep dangerous enemy fighters off the battlefield.

But Afghan government officials looking to the Americans to help them build a law-based state, where due process in a courtroom is the basis for incarceration, are instead being presented with a very different, extra-judicial example based on the laws of armed conflict.

For Afghan prosecutors, who receive vague case files from U.S. officials at Bagram, there is skepticism that the right people are landing behind bars because the detentions are based more on confidential intelligence than on releasable evidence.

Meanwhile, human rights groups, along with the Bagram detainees themselves, say their inability to adequately refute the claims against them breeds bitter contempt against the Americans.

“Once you are in Bagram, it doesn’t matter what country you came from or how you got there,” said Tina Foster, executive director of the International Justice Network that represents dozens of Bagram detainees, though it has never had access to them. “You are in a black hole. You have no legal recourse anywhere in the world.”

Human rights groups complained for years that detainees at Bagram languished with little or no knowledge of the accusations against them, no rights to challenge their detentions and no legal representation. In the early years of the war, two detainees were killed in Bagram and several U.S. soldiers were convicted of or pleaded guilty to abusing inmates.

More recently, conditions have improved. In the past year, the U.S. replaced the old facility with a pristine new complex dubbed the Detention Facility in Parwan and moved the detainees there. It has roomier housing, space for family visitations and, most importantly, new detainee review boards that allow detainees to receive some information regarding the suspicions against them. Suspects can also rebut those accusations and call witnesses to appear on their behalf.

The facility, which many still refer to as Bagram prison, also opened its gates to visits by human rights groups and journalists, who are permitted to attend hearings.

“Part of the goal of our command was to increase transparency,” said Michael Gottlieb, a State Department attorney who advises the year-old Task Force 435 that runs the complex. “Stories of people disappearing and families not knowing where there their relatives were, especially in the 2004 to 2007 period, were a common gripe.”

Nevertheless, rights groups say that the system remains fundamentally flawed. Detainees still don’t have lawyers, and there is no threshhold of proof to keep them indefinitely behind bars. Information gathered through intelligence remains secret. And a determination that a detainee poses a threat is enough to extend his detention.

“They might have improved buildings, they might have made it prettier, they might have improved their own internal proceedings,” Foster said. “But nothing has changed regarding the rights of these people.”

See International Justice Network for the most recent newer releases at here where you can find the following:

The report, Aafia Siddiqui: Just the Facts, reveals shocking new evidence that contradicts official statements from governments of both Pakistan and the United States that Dr. Siddiqui was not detained in their custody prior to her arrest in 2008. IJN has obtained a secret audio recording of a senior Pakistani police official who admits he was personally involved in the arrest of Dr. Siddiqui and her children eight years ago. This account is corroborated by substantial documentary evidence and witness testimony, which all points to the same conclusion—that Dr. Siddiqui and her three children were initially arrested in March 2003 with the knowledge and cooperation of local authorities in Karachi, Pakistan, and subsequently interrogated by Pakistani military intelligence (ISI) as well as U.S. intelligence agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

This shameful new revelation will not only establish a stage for holding specific political actors accountable for the grave injustice done to Dr. Siddiqui and her family, but should serve as a keystone for repairing the severed diplomatic ties between Pakistan and the United States. In a letter to Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, last week, IJN Executive Director, Tina M. Foster, urged the government of Pakistan to take immediate action to demand Dr. Siddiqui's repatriation, while the U.S. government is seeking the return of the Lahore shooter. In it, Ms. Foster stated:

"The safety and security of all Pakistani citizens is compromised when U.S. government agents can kill civilians on Pakistani soil with impunity, while the daughter of the nation (who has never caused harm or injury to anyone) languishes in a Texas prison for a crime she didn’t commit. Justice demands that Raymond Davis not be repatriated to the United States without securing the return of Dr. Siddiqui to Pakistan. The path is now clear. The only question that remains is whether the government of Pakistan is willing to take it."

To access report documents, GO here or try back another time

FIND plenty of other important items on this case from years ago up until now. Here are just a few:

This one is from one of the best American reporters who's book "The Best Terrorists We Could Find" is due out soon (Nation Books) - This report won an investigative reporting award and was written before either of the two older children were returned. The third child is considered killed or disappeared. GO here

Here's another classic/much-visited article by another skilled American woman from 2006 here

Check Back and be sure to go to the official Aafia Siddiqui family site:

1 comment:

  1. News Digest for April 2-4, 2011

    04/04 / Andy Worthington / Broken Justice at Bagram — for Afghans, and for Foreign Prisoners Held by the US

    04/04 / Editorial / Los Angeles Times / Miranda rights and terror suspects

    04/04 / James Carroll / Boston Globe / The roots of anti-Muslim bigotry

    04/03 / Andy Worthington / Updating the Definitive Bagram Prisoner List — 200 Review Board Decisions to Release, Transfer or Detain Added

    04/03 / David G. Savage / Los Angeles Times / Little headway made at Guantanamo

    04/02 / Bob Schacht / Firedoglake / Bush & Co.: Hemmed in, and not forgotten

    04/01 / Andy Worthington / Torture and Terrorism: In the Middle East It’s 2011, In America It’s Still 2001

    04/01 / Center for Constitutional Rights / News Release: Former Guantanamo Detainees Should Have Chance to Clear Their Name

    04/01 / Lyle Denniston / SCOTUSBlog / "Guantanamo Day" at the Court

    More news at