Revolution#117, January 27, 2008

Bagram Prison, Afghanistan:
A Brutal U.S. Torture Center

The U.S. is holding 630 prisoners—more than twice the number being held at Guantánamo—at the Bagram Air Force Base, north of Kabul in Afghanistan. The prisoners are crammed into wire cages, forced to sleep on the floor on foam mats and, until about a year ago, to use plastic buckets for latrines. Some have been detained for up to five years. They have never been charged with crimes. They have no access to lawyers. They are barred from even hearing the allegations against them.

The U.S. refuses to make public the names of the prisoners at Bagram. The prison may not be photographed, even from a distance. The little information that has surfaced comes mainly from Bagram prisoners who eventually ended up at Guantánamo and had at least some access to lawyers. A recent New York Times article (“Foiling U.S. Plan, Prison Expands in Afghanistan,” 1/7/2008) revealed that last summer the International Committee of the Red Cross filed a confidential complaint with the U.S. government about Bagram, charging that prisoners were being held incommunicado for weeks or even months in a previously undisclosed area of isolation cells and subjected to cruel treatment in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

“I Could Not Stop Screaming”

The British newspaper Guardian (2/18/2005) reported that one Bagram prisoner, a Palestinian named Mustafa, was blindfolded, handcuffed, gagged, and forced to bend down over a table by three American soldiers. He said, “They forcibly rammed a stick up my rectum… I could not stop screaming when this happened.” In another case reported by the Guardian, a Jordanian prisoner, Wesam Abdulrahman Ahmed Al Deemawi, said that during a 40-day period at Bagram he was threatened with dogs, stripped and photographed “in shameful and obscene positions” and placed in a cage with a hook and a hanging rope. He says he was hung from this hook, blindfolded, for two days.

Both men were freed from U.S. detention last year after being held at Bagram and Guantánamo. Neither has been charged with anything by any government.

Dilawar, a 22-year-old Afghan taxi driver and farmer, was killed by U.S. torturers at Bagram in December 2002. He had been beaten and chained by his wrists for four days. After his last torture session, Dilawar was chained back to the ceiling. Several hours passed before a doctor saw him—by which time he was dead and already beginning to stiffen.

“Are They Going to Vanish Forever?”

“The Americans are detaining people without any legal procedure. Prisoners do not have the opportunity to demonstrate their innocence.”

An official of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission

The U.S. has been working on a plan to transfer prisoners out of Bagram to a new prison run by the Afghan military. According to the New York Times, Bush administration officials wanted the Karzai government in Kabul—a puppet regime created by the U.S. after the 2001 invasion—to agree to hold the prisoners as “enemy combatants” and to adopt “a legal framework like that of Guantánamo.” In other words, the prisoners could be held indefinitely, without charges and any real trials. But apparently, even Karzai did not want to be seen carrying out such blatantly unjust treatment of prisoners that violates international laws, and he reportedly refused to sign a decree, written under U.S. direction, that authorized such treatment.

The number of detainees at Bagram rose from about 100 at the start of 2004 to over 600 in 2007, according to U.S. military figures. As part of their strategy in Afghanistan, the U.S. and allied troops carry out indiscriminate mass round-ups and keep people caught up in such sweeps in captivity for long periods of time. Many Afghans are also rounded up, without further verification or investigation, off of anonymous “tips” provided to U.S. authorities based on personal or tribal grudges.

Clive Stafford Smith, a human rights lawyer, represents 40 detainees at Guantánamo, many of whom were transferred from Bagram. He told Democracy Now!, “The people who have been most mistreated in Guantánamo were mistreated elsewhere, and then the administration took a very small number of them to Guantánamo, but the vast majority of them are either in Bagram or in these secret prisons around the world… What I’m afraid is the truth is that the most shocking abuses have yet to come to light, that these people are in Bagram and have yet to talk to anybody, and what the administration is doing is hiding these ghastly secrets. Now, the question is: What are they going to do about that? What are they going to do when it becomes necessary at some point for these prisoners to be given lawyers? There’s a lot of horror stories, and the administration is just not going to want those horror stories to come out. So where are these prisoners going to be sent? Are they going to vanish forever?”

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