Bagram Hearing Lacks Transparency, Adequate Access to Counsel
Washington, DC Amid news reports that four Afghan detainees held in the U.S.-run prison at the Bagram air field in Afghanistan were given the opportunity to appear at a pre-trial hearing this week, Human Rights First expresses concerns about the lack of transparency surrounding the trial procedures and the apparent failure to provide detainees with adequate access to their lawyers before the hearing and to appropriate translation services.
According to Reuters and the Associated Press, four detainees three adult brothers and their elderly father were brought before a panel of three Afghan judges on Tuesday, June 1. The proceeding was the first pre-trial hearing in advance of the first trial ever to be held at the U.S.-controlled detention facility at Bagram.
"While we are pleased to hear that a few Afghan detainees will finally receive a trial, we are dismayed that the proceeding so far has been chaotic and so little information has been made available about how this trial will proceed and whether more such trials are planned," said Human Rights First's Daphne Eviatar.
Since the U.S. military first began detaining suspected insurgents at Bagram eight years ago, none have been accorded a trial by U.S. authorities. Some have been transferred to an Afghan-run detention facility and provided summary trials there. Human Rights First has in the past criticized such trials for not meeting the minimum standards of due process.
In the past year, the U.S. military has begun to provide more meaningful hearings for detainees at Bagram that allow the suspects to call "reasonably available" witnesses and to be represented by "personal representatives" chosen by the U.S. military. However, as Human Rights First has pointed out, the detainees still have no right to legal representation or to see much of the evidence used against them, as much of it remains classified. Human Rights First has repeatedly asked to see the rules governing these new Detainee Review Board procedures, but the military has not revealed them.
Eviatar observed, "The first pre-trial hearing reportedly held at Bagram this week, before a panel of three Afghan judges and with the assistance of Afghan defense counsel, appears to be a step in the right direction. However, we remain concerned that the United States government has not indicated whether there will be any more such trials, what rules govern them, how much access the lawyers have to their clients and to the relevant evidence, and what kind of evidence will be admissible in this new procedure." Human Rights First has requested this information and received no response.
The news reports of the first hearing this week also reveal that the trial procedures are far from adequately developed. One defense lawyer reportedly complained that he had not an opportunity even to meet his client or to review his client's file. And when the hearing began, it became clear that the government had failed to provide the necessary translators to make it comprehensible. The trial was being conducted in Dari, rather than in the detainees' native language, which is Pashto. Although there were translators available to translate to English, there were none who could translate the proceedings into Pashto.
"A trial involving Afghan judges and lawyers is a good idea, but only if it's comprehensible and fair to the detainees," concluded Eviatar. "We hope that in the future, the U.S. military will provide more information about how it plans to develop this new justice system and to transfer its detention facilities to Afghan control." The U.S. military has said it plans to transfer its detention facility at Bagram to Afghan control next year.