Monday, January 9, 2012

Not Forgetting Bagram

Brian was one of those arrested and tried as part of the Hancock [New York] Drone Trial.  I asked him in Washington, D.C. why the defendants did not get a jury trial.  The original charges merited a jury trial, but the government dropped a charge to make sure it would be a bench trial.






Brian Terrell []
Monday, January 09, 2012 5:57 AM

Friends, Typically fasting takes place in a more contemplative context than we are experiencing here in Washington. Some of us gather each morning to break open the scriptures and all of us reflect each evening on the events of the day, but mostly we are fasting in a whirlwind of activity. Still, I feel like the "inner work" is not neglected but rather it is happening under the surface as we leaflet, march, talk to the public, the press, take care of planning details for the coming days.  Our fasting does not take place in solitude but together with the 50 or so of us sleeping on this church floor and with friends around the globe, a feeling of solidarity prevails.

Not Forgetting Bagram
By Brian Terrell

The Witness Against Torture community often reads and reflects on the stories of detainees in Guantanamo as we hold vigil in these days leading to the tenth anniversary of the first prisoners arriving there on January 11. A common refrain in the biographies of these Muslim men captured, or more likely purchased for a ransom, is that so many were imprisoned first in Bagram, Afghanistan, before being sent to Guantanamo.

In October, 2001, the United States occupied the former Soviet base at Bagram and soon established it as a place of internment for prisoners taken not only in Afghanistan but those rendered from other fronts in the “war on terror” as well. While the number of those held at Guantanamo has dwindled to 171, the Parwan Detention Center at Bagram has more than tripled in the three years of the Obama administration. There are more than 3,000 imprisoned there now and new construction will soon double the capacity of Parwan. There is also an unknown number of detainees in other secret “black site” prisons at Bagram.

Over the last days while we have been fasting in Washington, DC, an Afghan government commission has issued a report of torture and abuses of prisoners in U.S. custody at Bagram. On Thursday President Hamid Karzai demanded that the U.S. turn over all detainees to Afghan custody and said anyone held without evidence should be freed.

These facilities and the prisoners in them were scheduled to be turned over to the Afghan government this month but the hand-over has been delayed because U.S. officials fear that the Afghan courts are “too weak” to accommodate them. Many of those held at Bagram have been there since 2001, and some two thirds of prisoners there have not been charged any crime. 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.

Just as with the detainees held for these past ten years at Guantanamo, few of those held at Bagram would be convicted in a fair trial. Most have been captured on the strength of tips by informers and other hearsay and with no forensic evidence. “Right now,” a senior U.S. official is quoted in a January 30, 2011 article published in the Guardian, “if we turned them over to the Afghans tomorrow, they'd be in a position, under their laws and their constitution, that they may be released.”

After gutting its own constitution in the name of a “war on terror,” the United States is now adding to the injury and insult of a brutal occupation by demanding of the Afghan government that it pledge to be as lawless as the U.S., to continue our oppression of its own people in our absence, before we will give them sovereignty over their own judicial system.

Ten years ago this past October, the United States attacked and occupied Afghanistan and began a system of illegal detention at Bagram that on January 11, 2002, was exported to Guantanamo. Ten years is far too long. Our first concern needs be for those harmed by our nation’s policies, those who suffer torture and deprivation of liberty in places like Bagram and Guantanamo and their families and communities. We need be concerned as well for what happens to us, to our souls, to our schools, churches, to our nation, if we stand silent in the face of such crimes done in our name. It is time to rise up anew to say no to torture and call for the closure of Bagram and Guantanamo, accountability for the torturers, and justice for the victims of U.S. abuse.


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