The US military has been accused of abuse and torture at its notorious detention center in Afghanistan. Investigators say most detainees at Bagram prison are being held without charge or firm evidence of guilt.
Inmates of the US-run prison outside Bagram Air Base north of Kabul complained of freezing cold, humiliating strip searches and being deprived of light, according to Gul Rahman Qazi, who led an investigation ordered by President Hamid Karzai.
President Karzai ordered the investigative commission to be set up on January 5, after demanding that the US transfer full control over its military prisons to local authorities within a month. "Foreign troops are not allowed to run prisons in Afghanistan, which is sovereign and has its own constitution," Karzai said on Thursday.
According to President Karzai, the Bagram prisoners are subject to Guantanamo-like conditions with ''many cases of violations of the Afghan constitution and other applicable laws of the conventions on human rights.”
There are legal cases against only 300 of about 3,000 detainees at Bagram, US prison officials admitted during the probe. All the rest – most of them of suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda operators – are being held without trial, as they were captured using US intelligence that was not admissible in an Afghan court.
Another investigator, Sayed Noorullah, said the prisoners had the right to be released if there is no evidence of their guilt. He added that Bagram must be transferred to Afghan control "as soon as possible."
Officially, the detention facility is run by the US and Afghanistan jointly, but local authorities currently control only a small portion of the prison.
The US embassy in Kabul stated that the allegations of abuse in Bagram would be examined. "We take seriously and investigate all allegations of detainee abuse," said US embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall, as cited by Reuters.
As the US occupation of Afghanistan passes the 10-year mark, Washington is working on a plan to remove US forces from the country completely within the next two years. And with President Karzai’s ultimatum, the White House will have to either hand its Bagram prisoners over to the Afghan authorities or push forward with a transfer to another facility.
Human rights lawyers often refer to the prison at Bagram as "the other Guantanamo" or "Guantanamo's evil twin". If it is handed over to the Afghan authorities, the inmates may have a better chance of justice than their companions in misfortune in Guantanamo Bay.
Last year marked a decade since US authorities began detaining enemy combatants and other prisoners at the infamous Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. President Obama came to power on an election promise to close the prison, but more than three years later, it still holds many alleged terrorists who have not been offered trials.
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the anti-war group Code Pink, says relations between Washington and the Afghan authorities will only improve once the troops are gone.
“It looks like their own investigation has come up with allegations of abuse by the Americans who are running the prison. That shouldn’t be much of a surprise because this goes all the way back to 2002, when the abuses first started coming out – in fact there were two deaths of Afghan prisoners that led to many stories about abuses in Bagram.” There have been many cases or the sort reported over the last several years, Benjamin adds.
But the only surprising fact, she believes, is that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is “suddenly taking it seriously.”
US-Afghanistan relations have been poor for quite some time, Benjamin says, adding that the Afghan accusations against American forces are just another indication of that.
“Unfortunately, while the Obama administration is talking about leaving in 2014, he’s negotiating to have quite a significant number of troops stay beyond that date. I don’t think the American people want to see that, and there should be clear signs that the US is ready to leave Afghanistan, and turning over the Bagram prison would be one of those signs.”