U.S. Government Should Respond to Bagram Abuse Allegations
Washington, DC Human Rights First today called on the U.S. government to answer new allegations that Afghan prisoners are being abused in a "secret jail" at the U.S.-run Bagram airbase. In a letter to Vice-Admiral Robert S. Harward, Joint Task Force Commander in Afghanistan, Human Rights First pressed for answers to mounting allegations of abuse, including a BBC report issued today that claims nine witnesses have confirmed such abuse. To date, the U.S. government has consistently failed to respond to these serious accusations.
"In addition to being reprehensible, abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan would also directly undermine U.S. strategic interests there, which depend upon the support and cooperation of the Afghan people and their government," said Human Rights First's Daphne Eviatar. "But beyond that, these latest reports, if true, suggest that the U.S. may also be in violation of its legal obligations to treat detainees humanely."
The U.S. government is obligated under international law to provide the International Committee of the Red Cross access to all detainees in U.S. custody and to treat detainees humanely. According to nine witnesses who reportedly spoke to the BBC, prisoners at a secret site on the U.S. airbase are being subjected to deliberate sleep deprivation and extreme cold. Most said they were beaten by U.S. soldiers when they were arrested, and had not been allowed to contact their families. None had been visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
This is not the first time that such abuse allegations have surfaced. In November 2009, the Washington Post reported that teenagers arrested by U.S. authorities and held at the Bagram air base had similarly charged that they'd been beaten, sexually humiliated, deprived of sleep and held in isolation. Human Rights First subsequently requested information and an investigation from the Department of Defense, but the organization has still not received a response.
In October 2008, Human Rights First, in its Blueprint for the Next Administration: How to End Torture and Cruel Treatment, called upon the incoming administration to close secret prisons and end the practice of holding "ghost prisoners." In a January 22, 2009 Executive Order, President Obama revoked the CIA's detention authority and required that the ICRC be given access to all armed conflict detainees, as required by international law. It remains unclear, however, how long after an arrest the ICRC is being permitted to meet with the detainees, and if they are being given access to all U.S.-run detention sites in Afghanistan.
"We urge the government to investigate all allegations of abuse and to make the findings of such allegations public. Only by openly investigating and punishing such abuses will the United States be able to win the trust of the Afghan population, as well as American support for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan," Eviatar concluded.