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Afghanistan: US-held prisoners must be allowed rights

Fresh call as new US prison at Bagram is unveiled

The Obama administration must revise its detention policies in Afghanistan, Amnesty International, Human Rights First, and Human Rights Watch have said, as the US military revealed a recently constructed - but empty - detention facility at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan.

The three organisations are urging the US to end arbitrary detention in Afghanistan, noting that recent changes - including providing detainees with “notice of the basis of their internment” and the right to call witnesses and question government witnesses - are steps in the right direction, though they fall short of proper international standards for detention.

Currently a US domestic law - the Authorisation for Use of Military Force - is being used as the basis for US detentions on Afghan soil, meaning that prisoners are being denied legal protections under both Afghan domestic law and international human rights law.

Amnesty and other human rights organisations are insisting that all detainees in Afghanistan are entitled to minimum protections, including the right to legal counsel and to be able to challenge the legal and factual basis for the detention before an independent and impartial tribunal. The US reforms still fall short of providing detainees with those rights.

Amnesty International Asia-Pacific director Sam Zarifi said:

“The Bagram detention facility serves as a symbol of the US operating outside a proper legal framework in Afghanistan.

“Given the real problems with the existing Afghan judicial system, the US and Afghan governments must immediately begin to establish a long-term solution that respects the right of the detainees to have their cases heard in a court of law, and to be set free if they are not found guilty of a criminal offence.”

Human Rights First senior associate Sahr Muhammed Ally said:

“It’s common knowledge that Afghans perceive US detention operations as secretive and lacking in due process. The US must remedy this problem and take the critical step of bringing its detention practices into an appropriate legal framework that is consistent with international and Afghan law, and allows and provides detainees with a sufficient way to challenge their detention.”

Human Rights Watch Afghanistan researcher Rachel Reid said:

“President Obama has taken some steps to sort out the mess created by the Bush administration. But US will have a lot more credibility encouraging the Afghan government to respect the rule of law if it reforms its own detention practices.”

The three organisations are urging the US and Afghan governments to take further steps immediately. In particular, the US and Afghanistan are being asked to enter into a public agreement that spells out grounds and procedures for US detentions that are consistent with international and Afghan law.

Additionally, the US should provide transparency in its detention operations by allowing private access to detainees by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, which is legally mandated to visit places of detention on Afghan soil, and by international human rights organisations. Presently the International Committee of the Red Cross does visit detainees being held in long-term US detention, but their findings are confidential.

The US should also facilitate observation of the new detainee review board proceedings by Afghan and international human rights groups. Similar detainee review processes conducted by the US in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay fell far short of international legal standards.

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