BBC News, June 24, 2009
Former detainee: ‘They put medicine in our drink to prevent us sleeping’
By Ian Pannell
BBC News, Kabul
Allegations of abuse and neglect at a US detention facility in Afghanistan have been uncovered by the BBC.
Former detainees have alleged they were beaten, deprived of sleep and threatened with dogs at the Bagram military base.
The BBC interviewed 27 former inmates of Bagram around the country over a period of two months.
The Pentagon has denied the charges and insisted that all inmates in the facility are treated humanely.
All the men were asked the same questions and they were all interviewed in isolation.
They were held at times between 2002 and 2008 and they were all accused of belonging to or helping al-Qaeda or the Taliban.
None were charged with any offence or put on trial; some even received apologies when they were released.
Just two of the detainees said they had been treated well.
They put a pistol or a gun to your head and threatened you with death.
Former Bagram detainee
Many allegations of ill-treatment appear repeatedly in the interviews: physical abuse, the use of stress positions, excessive heat or cold, unbearably loud noise, being forced to remove clothes in front of female soldiers.
In four cases detainees were threatened with death at gunpoint.
“They did things that you would not do against animals let alone to humans,” said one inmate known as Dr Khandan.
“They poured cold water on you in winter and hot water in summer. They used dogs against us. They put a pistol or a gun to your head and threatened you with death,” he said.
“They put some kind of medicine in the juice or water to make you sleepless and then they would interrogate you.”
BAGRAM AIR BASE
Base built by the Soviet military in the 1980s
Around 600 people are held
Prisoners are classified as “unlawful enemy combatants’
The findings were shown to the Pentagon.
Lt Col Mark Wright, a spokesman for the US Secretary of Defence, insisted that conditions at Bagram “meet international standards for care and custody”.
Col Wright said the US defence department has a policy of treating detainees humanely.
“There have been well-documented instances where that policy was not followed, and service members have been held accountable for their actions in those cases,” he said.
‘Legal black hole’
Bagram has held thousands of people over the last eight years and a new detention centre is currently under construction at the camp.
Some of the inmates are forcibly taken there from abroad, especially Pakistanis and at least two Britons.
Bagram detainees do not have the status of those at Guantanamo Bay
Since coming to office US President Barack Obama has banned the use of torture and ordered a review of policy on detainees, which is expected to report next month.
But unlike its detainees at the US naval facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, the prisoners at Bagram have no access to lawyers and they cannot challenge their detention.
The inmates at Bagram are being kept in “a legal black-hole, without access to lawyers or courts”, according to Tina Foster, executive director of the International Justice Network, a legal support group representing four detainees.
She is pursuing legal action that, if successful. would grant detainees at Bagram the same rights as those still being held at Guantanamo Bay.
But the Obama administration is trying to block the move.
Last year, the US Supreme Court ruled that detainees at Guantanamo should be given legal rights.
Speaking on the presidential campaign trail, Barack Obama applauded the ruling: “The court’s decision is a rejection of the Bush administration’s attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo.
“This is an important step toward re-establishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law, and rejecting a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus.”
Ms Foster accuses the new administration of abandoning that position and “using the same arguments as the Bush White House”.
In its legal submissions, the US justice department argues that because Afghanistan is an active combat zone it is not possible to conduct rigorous inquiries into individual cases and that it would divert precious military resources at a crucial time.
They also argue that granting legal rights to detainees could harm Mr Obama’s “ability to succeed in armed conflict and to protect United States’ forces” by limiting his powers to conduct military operations.
A US federal appeals court judge is expected to rule soon.
These revelations come at a time when Mr Obama is trying to re-set Washington’s relationship with the Muslim world and trying harder than ever to win the war in Afghanistan.
It is a controversy that threatens to damage the image of the new administration in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.