Bagram lesser known – but more evil – twin of Guantanamo

June 24, 2009

clara_gutteridge-Clara Gutteridge is renditions investigator at Reprieve. The opinions expressed are her own.-

The big surprise in Tuesday’s revelations of prisoner abuse at Bagram is how long these stories have taken to reach the international media, given the scale of the problem.

Bagram Airforce Base is Guantanamo Bay’s lesser known – but more evil – twin. Thousands of prisoners have been “through the system” at Bagram, and around 600 are currently held there. Meanwhile President Obama’s lawyers are fighting to hold them incommunicado; stripped of the right to challenge the reasons for their imprisonment.

In this way, Bagram Airforce Base is just the latest in a long line of U.S.-created legal black holes. And as evidence of abuse there has begun to leak out, the U.S. military has responded in exactly the same way as it did to similar allegations at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere: by insisting that the torture is just the work of a few low-ranking “bad apples” and repeating that the U.S. “does not torture”.

Sad to say, the truth has revealed itself to be just the opposite. Recently released U.S. government memos have shown the efforts of top U.S. lawyers to justify torture techniques to be used in prisons far from U.S. continental territory. Faced with such evidence, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that prisons like Bagram were created in large part because the U.S. wanted to torture certain people held there.

The Obama administration argues that the prisoners in Bagram are not entitled to challenge their imprisonment because Afghanistan is in a state of war, and that therefore different legal rules apply. But many of the former Bagram prisoners, such as British residents Jamil El-Banna and Bisher Al-Rawi, were captured in countries far from the Afghan “battlefield”, and forcibly transferred into the war-zone. It seems wholly unfair that prisoners be denied rights simply because they have been kidnapped and rendered into a legal black hole.

In such renderings, the U.S. has not acted alone. The British government has recently admitted to capturing two men in Iraq who were handed to the U.S. and subsequently rendered to Afghanistan. Reprieve’s investigations suggest that these men were taken out of Iraq because the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal was breaking, and Afghanistan represented a safer, darker place to hold them indefinitely. Yet the British government refuses to assist us in our efforts to offer the men legal representation, preferring to allow them to languish in Bagram.

And this is the story of Bagram: 600 virtually unknown men are being held “beyond the rule of law” in desperate conditions, whilst the US government seeks to obstruct lawyers who seek to represent them, and other complicit governments such as the British bury their heads in the sand. Does any of this sound familiar?

Related commentary: Britain’s torture memos — keeping up appearances


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Clara, the precedent to Bagram, Abu Graib and Guantanamo is here at home. Police scandals spanning decades show the use of torture to obtain confessions in the U.S.. Water boarding subsequent to WW I and Electric shock after Viet Nam. This is how law enforcement has sometimes operated in the U.S.. These law enforcement officers were war veterans.

We lock up two and a half million people in the U.S.. I shudder to think how many are innocent. I spent years escorting defendants to court. Incompetency and apathy abound with most of the officers of the courts I have seen work. Those who fight for the truth are the rare exception.

Bill Curtis traveled the country investigating this issue. He states “There is a dirty little secret among criminal lawyers. A lot of innocent people go to prison.” The attorneys widely disagree as to how many in their experience how many innocents are convicted. The estimates ranged from 20 to 80 percent by region.

Even 10 percent would be unacceptable if true. Why does it happen? I don’t know. I guess as a people we are just used to accepting what ever our government does.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

Further evidence of the basic message I try to repeat in every post.


Wake up America

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

The surprise for me was that, even though we now possess lie-detection techniques which, although expensive and time-consuming, are able to winnow out the truth from Jihadists (as demonstrated on Channel 4 last year), the BBC and other media rushed to publish without using them. You must be cock-a-hoop.

The timing is no surprise at all. It’s called “news management”, and it’s a woeful pressure group is isn’t a past master at that by now. I’m afraid I discounted the entire news story, and will continue to do so until some decent evidence is presented.

Posted by Ian Kemmish | Report as abusive

The thing that has always surprised me is how the US has always been able to get away with torture because of the denial of its citizens and their refusal to recognise, despite all the evidence, that the US government has always promoted and been involved in torture. This time, this has been achieved by Obama, who came into office with CIA backing, blaming it all on Bush (after they were found out, anyway) and promising to abolish torture whilst allowing it to continue.

The forerunners of the CIA set up one of the ‘ratlines’ that organised escape to South America for Nazi war criminals (the Vatican organised another ‘ratline’). They also learnt a lot about ‘low intensity warfare’ and torture methods from Roger Trinquier, a theorist for the French government at the time of the Algerian Independence War. The French tortured millions of people during that struggle. Later these methods were adopted by US backed dictators in the ‘Southern Cone’ countries of South America (Argentina, Chile, Paraguay) with US government and ex-Nazi support. Later still, when the US was promoting covert warfare against the people of Central America, ‘advisors’ were sent from the Southern Cone to Central America to teach them how to do it. Meanwhile the ‘School of the America’s’ at Fort Benning, Georgia taught torture methods to dictators and police forces throughout Latin America. Bush, Rumsfeld & Cheney’s mistake was to make it all too obvious, so that people could no longer ignore it. The pretence that US torture didn’t happen before Bush is part of the cover-up.

Posted by farnaby | Report as abusive

This whole article is nonsense. I worked at the BTIF for all of 2006. I saw not one instance of torture. What I witnessed was an island of humanity in a sea of inhumanity. People who were trying to kill Americans one week were being given dentures, glasses and appendectomies the next week.

Terrorists lie. Shocker!

Posted by TJ Butterfield | Report as abusive

TJ Butterfield, if you like it so much why don’t you spend the rest of your life there? Perhaps as a freedom loving individual you wouldn’t mind suspending trials and juries here in the U.S. too. The man who arrests or turns you in gets to be judge and jury. Lock up everybody for life who gets arrested. Have you ever witnessed one suspected terrorist commit an act of war.

That is why there should be hearings trials and a rule of law so the facts can be presented. The next hurdle will be to get the prosecutors to follow the law regarding cases they prosecute. Just ask The Honorable Judge Sullivan who presided over and vacated the conviction in the Senator Stevens case and that of 12 wrongfully convicted detainees. Judge Sullivan has ordered a probe into the Justice Department for suborning perjury and withholding exculpatory evidence.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive