US might keep Bagram secret prison detainees even after end of Afghan War
The United States government is committed to concluding its war in Afghanistan at the end of this year, but isn’t too certain about what finally ending that operation will mean for a group of foreign prisoners being held near Kabul.
Journalist Jessica Donati reported for Reuters on Monday this week that the status of an undisclosed number of individuals under American custody at a facility to the north of the Afghan capital is becoming “increasingly urgent” because the US will not have the right to hold them once the 13-year-old war concludes in the coming months.
Little is known about the prisoners — including their identities or how many are even in American custody — but Donati says that the legal power that has let authorities continue to keep the detainees under US control during the duration of the Afghan War will soon expire. Officials at that point will be left to decide where and how the men will be moved from a prison on the outskirts of the infamous Bagram airfield, and achieving such an answer isn’t all that easy, according to the reporter.
Brigadier General Patrick Reinert, the commanding general of the United States Army Reserve Legal Command, told Reuters that the individuals in question are all foreign nationals that have been captured by the US on battlefields around the globe and ultimately ended up being held near the Bagram airfield where the US previously maintained a facility that spawned an international scandal concerning widespread abuses nearly a decade ago.
With operations within Afghanistan soon ceasing, Reinert told Reuters that the individuals in custody could be transferred into the US court system or, if no other option is feasible, added to the pool of detainees held at the Pentagon-maintained facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Sending the men back to their home countries might not be a possibility, Reinert warned, because US requires that those nations first promise that the prisoners won’t be prosecuted or subjected to inhumane conditions.
"We've got to resolve their fate by either returning them to their home country or turning them over to the Afghans for prosecution or any other number of ways that the Department of Defense has to resolve," he told Reuters. "Until the country provides assurances, the individual cannot be transferred.”
Going to Guantanamo is highly unlikely, Donati added, due to mounting pressure for the White House to close the facility as promise by US President Barack Obama before he campaigned for the oval office and after his victories in 2008 and 2012. According to recent statistics published by the New York Times, 149 detainees remain held at Gitmo despite the president’s vows to close the prison.
Upon publication of the Reuters article, the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York City-based organization that advocates for protecting basic freedoms, tweeted that the claim that Guantanamo remains open because there is nowhere to send the detainees is “demonstrably false.” With regards to the individuals being moved from Afghanistan, however, human rights activists say that allowing the detainees to remain under US custody no matter where would be trouble.
.@ReutersWorld, the claim that #Guantanamo remains open b/c there is nowhere to send the detainees is demonstrably false.
— The CCR (@theCCR) September 29, 2014
"It would be an absolute nightmare if that happened ... We don't even know who they are ... Our effort is to ensure all Pakistanis are back before the end of December," Maryam Haq, a lawyer with the Justice Project Pakistan, told Reuters.
Thirty-nine Pakistanis have been released from Bagram in the past 10 months, China’s Xinhua Net reported last week, leaving reportedly just one Pakistani in US custody there. With regards to the total number of detainees held in Bagram, however, Donati acknowledged that such a statistic is not available.
“Almost nothing is known of the detainees' identities. The United States has declined to disclose their nationalities, where they were captured and how many are still in its custody,” she wrote, adding that the Justice Project Pakistan groups believes that some are from Yemen, Russia and Saudi Arabia and, if recent reports are accurate, amount to less than 50 individuals in custody.