Bagram, the new Guantánamo

Why is Britain conniving at the evil work of the US's secret site in Afghanistan where rendered prisoners are routinely abused?
By Clive Stafford Smith,, June 24, 2009

The BBC's revelations about prisoner abuse at the US prison at Bagram airforce base in Afghanistan are the latest in a long line of revelations about abuse at US prisons around the world.

President Obama told us that this sort of thing has stopped. Well, it hasn't.

Sadly, the Obama administration is up to the former administration's familiar tricks, attempting to block the world from the truth. In April, a federal judge in Washington DC ordered that prisoners in Bagram should be allowed counsel, and the right to be heard in court; the Obama administration refused to comply, and appealed the judgment. People being beaten up in Bagram should, apparently, grin and bear it.

The US is spending $50m on a new prison for Bagram, housing more than 1,000 people – to add to the 600 who are already there. Of these, many (including all those in the recent Washington case) were not originally captured in Afghanistan at all, but in other countries. The US then rendered them into Afghanistan.

The British government should have a sense of familiarity with this story: in February, Defence Minister John Hutton admitted that British personnel had taken two Pakistani men prisoner in Iraq in 2004, and had subsequently handed them to the Americans. The men were rendered to Afghanistan, where they have now been held – and, if the latest BBC report is anything to go by, presumably beaten – for five years. They have never been charged. The US argues that it is too dangerous to allow them lawyers – and yet, like so many others, the first time they went to Afghanistan was when the US took them there.

Mr Hutton insisted to Parliament that they are being held "in a humane, safe and secure environment, meeting international standards consistent with cultural and religious norms". Thus, in the wake of eight years of President George Bush, "international standards" now include being abused and denied all due process of law.

We at Reprieve have asked Mr Hutton simply to tell us the men's names, so we can reunite them with their legal rights. Mr Hutton demurs. It is a secret, we are told. So, it is OK for the British government to render two men against their will to a foreign country, then admit the crime (it is a practice commonly referred to as kidnapping), but refuse to name the victims – so that this wrong might be set right.

Bagram is the evil twin of Guantánamo Bay, if rather more cut off from the world, and all things we consider civilised. Even Tony Blair eventually condemned Guantánamo. When will the Brown government stand up for its principles and apply the same rule to Bagram?

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