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article imageOp-Ed: U.S. still holds about 60 prisoners indefinitely in Afghanistan

By Ken Hanly     Sep 30, 2014 in Politics
Bagram - While the US and Afghanistan have just signed a bilateral security agreement that will allow US and some NATO troops to remain after the end of 2014, there are still outstanding issues such as the fate of a number of prisoners still held by the US.
Journalist Jessica Donati reported to Reuters that the status of a number of foreign individuals who are in custody in a section of Bagram Air Base north of Kabul will be unclear when the present mission ends on December 31st this year. The US will not have the right to continue to hold them there after the mission ends.
The identity of the prisoners is not known nor even how many they are. However, all Afghan prisoners were turned over to the Afghan authorities so they are non-Afghans. Brigadier General Patrict Reinert, the commanding general of the US Army Reserve Legal Command claims that all the prisoners are foreign nationals captured by the US around the globe. They ended up at the site near the Bagram Air Base. An article in Rolling Stone last year went into some detail about the facility: Around 60 non-Afghan nationals are currently being kept by the U.S. at the prison near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan – all without charge or trial – following the hand-over of around 3,000 Afghan prisoners to the Afghan government in March. Chris Rogers of the Open Society Foundations describes the facility where the prisoners are held a second Guantanamo Bay that no one has heard about.
Some of the detainees might face prosecution or mistreatment if returned to their home countries. The detainees are held as quasi prisoners of war as part of the ongoing war on terror against Al Qaeda and affiliates. The theory is that they can be legally held until the war is over! While the combat mission in Afghanistan may be over no doubt the US can claim that the war against terrorism continues. However, the US will need the permission of the Afghan government to continue to keep these prisoners at Bagram
The prisoners could be moved to Guantanamo but this seems unlikely. Many are no doubt in the Bagram facility because the US wanted to avoid attention to the fact that the US is still holding people indefinitely at Guantanamo in Cuba. Sending more captured suspected terrorists to Guantanamo would simply create unwelcome publicity at a time when Obama is supposed to be trying his best to close the facility. At last count, there were still 149 detainees held at the facility.
Reinert said that some of the prisoners could be transferred to the US and tried in US courts in certain situations: "If someone has committed a crime overseas that could be a crime also in the United States, a detainee could be transferred back to the United States." This might not be a popular move and there may be many cases where there would not be sufficient evidence for a conviction.
Maryam Haq, a lawyer with the Justice Project Pakistan(JPP) wants to ensure that all Pakistani prisoners are back in Pakistan before the end of 2014. The US already quietly sent back 14 Pakistani detainees because there was no real evidence against them.
The detainees do not have their own lawyers. In 2009, detainee review boards(DRBs) were set up. The panels are composed of US administrative officials and their role is simply to decided whether inmates need to be kept in custody. One detainee called them a joke and noted that the only evidence that they had against him was a document he was forced to sign.
Sarah Belal, the director of JPP, said that the US had an obligation to decide what to do with these individuals by the end of 2014: “These individuals are trapped in indefinite, illegal detention. The US and other governments have the means to bring this to an end – it is time that they and the public have the will.” Perhaps the solution to the problem will be to keep the Bagram prison open with the agreement of the new Afghan government upon agreeing to make appropriate payments to Afghan authorities for the right to do so.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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