Bagram: where time stands still

Hundreds of prisoners held without charge or trial by the United States on “security” grounds in a remote and inaccessible military camp without access to lawyers or the courts. Where have we heard that before?

Guantánamo, right? No, Bagram, the US-run military air base 40 miles outside of Kabul in Afghanistan. Actually nearly a year ago I blogged about the sub-Guantánamo conditions for over 600 prisoners trapped in their US-Afghan detention limbo. Nothing much has changed. Time moves very slowly if you’re in prison at Bagram.

Well, OK, following the “model” of Guantánamo, in November the US opened a new prison next to the site of the old one, invited media to tour the as-yet empty facility and then carried on as before: denying untried prisoners even basic rights.

The BBC’s new report alleging the existence of a secret “prison within a prison” at Bagram is pretty shocking (tear yourself away from the Clegg-Brown-Cameron show and listen to the Radio 4 programme tonight at 8pm), but fits perfectly with earlier accounts of “ghost prisoners” being kept in secret cells away from even the Red Cross. And the allegations of physical and mental abuse also mesh with longstanding claims of a similar nature – in fact they go right back to harrowing accounts from the earliest prisoners rounded up after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Amnesty is still pressing for basic rights for Bagram prisoners (yes, it’s like Guantánamo all over again), but meanwhile the months and tick by.

As Wikipedia explains, Bagram air base is partly comprised of old military buildings from the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s, and as it happens I’m five hours into watching Alexander Sokurov’s epic Spiritual Voices, his mesmerising meditation on Soviet soldiers on a tour of duty during the Soviet-Afghan war. The overall mood, as the young soldiers smoke endless cigarettes in the mountain dugout, eking out a desperate-seeming existence waiting for something to happen, is of being cut off from the world. That pretty much sums it up for Bagram’s prisoners. 

 

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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