Despite ten years of occupation and untold millions of dollars spent on rebuilding Afghanistan’s broken judicial and criminal justice system, the Afghan courts are “still too weak,” the Washington Post reported on August 12, for the United States to relinquish its control over the Parwan Detention Center on Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. On September 21, the same paper reported that the U.S. military is seeking contractors to significantly increase the capacity of the prison there.
The number of Afghans detained at Bagram has tripled over the past three years to more than 2,600 and the new construction will raise the capacity to 5,500 prisoners. Capt. Kevin Aandahl, a spokesman for the U.S. task force that oversees detention operations in Afghanistan, told the Post that the expansion was necessary to “accommodate an increase in the number of suspected insurgents being detained as a result of intelligence-based counter- terrorism operations, which we conduct with our Afghan partners.”
Many of those held at Bagram have been there since the U.S. occupied the former Soviet air base in 2001, and some two thirds of prisoners there have not been charged with or convicted of any crime. Corruption is rampant in Afghan courts and among police there as it is in many other places but the major fear of the United States is not that the Afghan courts will not function according to their constitution and accepted norms of law, but that they will. In order for Afghanistan to take sovereignty over its own judiciary and prison system, the Afghans must first fix the “cracks of an undeveloped legal system” and adopt essential “reforms,” including adoption of the U.S. practice of detaining suspected insurgents indefinitely without trial.
I’m delighted to reproduce below a statement by my friend, the former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Deghayes, which was read out at a rally (at which I spoke) outside the White House on January 11, 2011, the 9th anniversary of the opening of the prison. Omar, whose testimony is at the heart of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with Polly Nash, was held in US custody from May 2002 until December 2007, and spent most of that time at Guantánamo, after being held first in Pakistan and in Bagram, Afghanistan.
His comments provided a powerful conclusion to the rally, and a reminder not only of how justice still eludes the 173 men still held, but also of how the American people are prevented from hearing about the injustices of Guantánamo first hand, as Omar, and every other cleared prisoner, is prevented from visiting the US to meet people and to tell their stories, and the Obama administration, Congress and the D.C. Circuit Court have all made sure that no cleared prisoner will be allowed to live in the US, even if they face torture in their home countries, and no other country can be found that is prepared to offer them a new home.
A statement from Omar Deghayes, January 11, 2011
Two years ago, President Barack Obama pledged to bring an end to the anomaly that is Guantánamo within a year, and to thereby restore America’s moral standing in the world. Yet today, on January 11, 2011, we are marking the beginning of the tenth year since the first prisoners were transferred to Camp X Ray — and Guantánamo remains open, Obama’s promise in ruins.
Convicted of attempted murder, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, 38, was sentenced to 86 years in prison in New York on Thursday. The Pakistan-native was held in custody for two years after allegedly shooting at US troops and an F.B.I agent in Afghanistan with an assault rifle she grabbed from behind a curtain, unlocked, and fired before being shot in the stomach by an interpreter.
Although she infamously topped America’s most wanted list for years, most Americans would be hard pressed to comment at all on the MIT and Brandeis graduate who is due to serve decades in jail for compromising their security.
Perhaps Siddiqui’s trial has received so little attention in the US because the charges brought against her do not relate not to her’s supposed links to Al-Qaeda, or the canisters of chemicals, bomb-making manuals, and lists of American landmarks that she had been carrying at the time her detainment in Afghanistan. This has been seen by Harper’s and many others as an all too easy story, especially given the immense variance in claims made by US officials and Afghani eye-witnesses, as well as Siddiqui’s own story. Despite the questionable circumstances of her arrest, however, no evidence about her capture was allowed to surface at all in the recent trial, only furthering protest in Pakistan.
While the verdict was announced only in the regional section of the New York Times, in her own country, Siddiqui’s case become something of a cause célèbre. Many Pakistanis have long condemned what they believe to be an unjust trial based on fabricated evidence through demonstrations as well as information campaigns.
Given this divergence in understanding, it is worthwhile to ask not only who Aafia Siddiqui is, but what she has come to represent to everyday Pakistanis.
Omar Khadr, the only Canadian citizen in Guantánamo, was seized in Afghanistan on July 27, 2002, when he was just 15 years old. On September 19 he turned 24, and has grown, physically, into a man during the eight years and two months he has spent in US custody, first at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, and, since October 2002, at Guantánamo. At heart, however, he remains a child, whose youth has been stolen from him by the US authorities responsible for detaining him, and by the Canadian government, which has refused to demand his return.
In order to reveal something about the salience of incoherence in today’s world, let’s examine this recent event:
On May 21st, the Appeals Court for the District of Columbia ruled that detainees at Bagram do not have the right to habeas corpus; that is, the right to challenge their detention; that is, the same right that was extended to Guantanamo detainees in two separate Supreme Court rulings, Rasul (2004) and Boumediene (2008). The Bagram decision was based on reasoning that because the prison is located in Afghanistan – a zone of active combat – the precedent in Boumediene, concerning Guantanamo Bay, cannot be applied. Additionally, the Court ruled that while the United States, in maintaining full and complete control over Guantanamo Bay for over a century, was constitutionally required to provide detainees with the right to challenge their detention, the status of Bagram was a different case because the U.S. does not intend to maintain control over Bagram with any “permanence.” At first, the logic of the court, which is grounded in Supreme Court precedent, ‘may’ sound compelling to the reader, but this is where things get sticky…..
In a series of interviews by the Talking Dog, lawyers for Bagram and Guantanamo detainees have been discussing why they do what they do; namely, represent clients who the government has and continues to maintain are ‘terrorists.’ In the most recent of these interviews, Ellen Lubell, co-counsel for Abdul Aziz Naji, tells us what’s at stake for her in detainee representation and why such work must continue to be done.
I spent Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday in Washington, D.C. as part of the Witness Against Torture fast, which campaigns to end all forms of torture and has worked steadily for an end to indefinite detention of people imprisoned in Guantanamo, Bagram, and other secret sites where the U.S. has held and tortured prisoners. We’re on day 9 of a twelve day fast to shut down Guantanamo, end torture, and build justice.
The community gathered for the fast has grown over the past week. This means, however, that as more people sleep on the floor of St. Stephen’s church, there is a rising cacophony of snoring. Our good friend, Fr. Bill Pickard, suggested trying to hear the snores as an orchestra, when I told him I’d slept fitfully last night.
There is a young boy in Mir Ali, a town in North Waziristan, in Pakistan, who also lies awake at night, unable to sleep. Israr Khan Dawar is 17 years old. He told an AP reporter, on January 14th, that he and his family and friends had gotten used to the drones. But now, at night, the sound grows louder and the drones are flying closer, so he and his family realize they could be a target. He braces himself in fear of an attack.