Kangaroo Justice at Bagram

By Kenneth J. Theisen

Most Americans have heard about the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo. But few are aware of a similar prison in Afghanistan at the Bagram military base. Detainees there have been captured or kidnapped by the U.S. from all over the world. Shortly after he took office, Obama announced that he would close Guantanamo (he has not yet done so). But instead of closing Bagram, he asked Congress for more money to expand its capacity to hold prisoners of the U.S. war of terror. His Department of Justice even went to court to fight the right of Bagram prisoners to challenge their detentions in a U.S. court earlier this year.
On Monday the Department of Defense announced that some 600 prisoners held in Bagram would have the right to challenge their detention. Is this a step forward or merely smoke and mirrors to pretend that the prisoners are being given their basic legal rights, while really denying them these rights?
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters, “It's basically a review procedure that ensures people go in front of a panel periodically to give them the opportunity to contest their detention. It's something that we had used in Iraq to help us manage the detainee population and ultimately reduce the detainee population by ensuring that we are only holding those that are the most dangerous threats." According to Whitman the inmates would be “aided” by a uniformed "personal representative" who would "guide them through this administrative process, to help gather witness statements." 
But these representatives would not be lawyers and they work for the military, not the prisoners. This is nothing more than a kangaroo procedure. In the early days of military commissions and tribunals at Gitmo a similar useless procedure was followed. Detainees were given the illusion of justice, while being held for years.
Bagram prisoners have also been held for years. Some have been incarcerated since 2002. The cases would be reviewed by a U.S. military panel acting as a kangaroo court. And this very limited access to a personal representative is a reaction to a court ruling and not some benevolent gesture from our new Commander-in-Chief.
Obama’s administration was given until midnight of the 14th to appeal an April court ruling that said certain detainees in Bagram, who were captured outside of Afghanistan, should be given the due process to challenge their detentions in U.S. courts.
Also in April the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request asking the Obama administration to make public records pertaining to the detention and treatment of prisoners held at Bagram. The government has not yet turned over the records.
The Pentagon’s latest announcement has been met with skepticism. Stacy Sullivan, from Human Rights Watch, stated, “…we have some concerns about whether this review process would be efficient because in Guantanamo Bay, the military set up a very similar review and it was basically used as a means to keep men in indefinite detention."
Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project stated, “We look forward to seeing the details of the new policy; until then, it is difficult to assess how meaningful a change it represents. We remain concerned, however, about the level of secrecy that surrounds Bagram. The public remains uninformed of basic facts such as who is imprisoned there, how long they have been held, where they were captured and on what grounds they are being subjected to indefinite detention. The government should make public documents that could shed light on this crucial information about the detention and treatment of prisoners at Bagram.”
"We also remain deeply concerned that Bagram is being used not only as a battlefield detention facility but as a prison to hold terrorism suspects apprehended all over the world. While moves to give prisoners a better chance to contest their prolonged detention in a military forum are encouraging, the Obama administration's continued efforts to block Bagram prisoners' access to U.S. courts remains disappointing."
The latest announcement also fails to address the fact that the U.S. and its allies run hellhole prisons in many other places beside Bagram and Gitmo. Since the beginning of the U.S. war of terror, hundreds of thousands of prisoners have been incarcerated in these prisons. They have been subjected to abuse, torture, sexual assault, and in many cases death. Women and children have been held in these inhumane prisons in addition to men.
This measure is nothing but an illusion of justice. As long as the U.S. war of terror continues there will be no justice for any of those captured. Only when those U.S. officials who initiated this war and those within the Obama administration who continue it are tried, will there be real justice.
More information about the ACLU's FOIA request is online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/detention/39442prs20090423.html



World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.