Bagram & Guantanamo: What do Afghans Think?

APV Fasting in Solidarity with Guatanamo Prisoners
APV Fasting in Solidarity with Guatanamo Prisoners

by Ghulamai Hussein and Maya Evans

Guantanamo Prison has now been in operation for 12 years. 155 people are currently being held illegally, mostly without charge or trial. 16 of them are Afghans, many swept up in 2002 when fellow Afghans (perhaps motivated by bounty rewards being doled out by the U.S ) informed on fellow Afghans as being members of Al Qaeda or the Taliban. International solidarity for the “enemy combatants” increased dramatically  when 106 out of 166 prisoners started hunger striking a year ago. Forty-five of them were eventually force fed. During the international week of solidarity 6-13th January, marking12 years of Guantanamo, the Afghan Peace Volunteers took action by pledging to a 3 day fast. Other global actions included an international fast, a sit in at Washington DC history museum to “make Guantanamo history” and a mass Trafalgar Square rally in the UK.

Ghulamai making a solidarity banner, Zerkrullah resting while on a fast
Ghulamai making a solidarity banner, Zerkrullah resting while on a fast

During our 3 day fast, which is no mean feat in an Afghan winter, the APV discussed the issue of illegal prisons both around the world and within Afghanistan. Ghulamai, a quietly smart 16 year old peace volunteer started off the discussion by debriefing on some research he had carried out. It seems there is a general lack of awareness in the Afghan mainstream about Guantanamo or Bagram, despite Bagram being in Parwan, the neighbouring province to Kabul only 67km away. Internationally the prison was put on the human rights map in 2002 when two homicides took place, with reports emerging that prisoners Habibullah and Dilawar were chained to the ceiling and beaten to death. Autopsies revealed severe trauma to both prisoners’ legs, describing the injuries as comparable to being run over by a bus.

Seven soldiers were charged; Captain Christopher Beiring was charged with dereliction of duty and making false statements; the charges were dropped, but he was reprimanded. Sgt. Christopher Greatorex was tried on charges of abuse, maltreatment, and making false statements; he was acquitted. Sgt. Darin Broady was tried on charges of abuse and acquitted. Sgt. Brian Cammack pleded guilty to charges of assault and making false statements; he was sentenced to three months in jail, a fine, reduced in rank to private, and given a bad conduct discharge. Pfc. Willie Brand was convicted of other charges, but acquitted of charges relating to abuse of Habibullah.

It was only in 2010 when the American military released (by legal force) the names of 645 detainees during a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Lawyers also demanded detailed information about conditions, rules and regulations.

On the road from Kabul to Bagram
On the road from Kabul to Begrime, abandoned Russian tanks

Today, according to news reports, there have been 3,000 prisoners in Bagram and allegedly 67 are non-Afghans.  Most are Afghans who were arrested in different places, most inside and a few outside of Afghanistan. The USA  kicked off their flagrant breach of international human rights in 2001 with the Patriot Act, which paved the way for other such abhorrent laws which allows the US to detain people without trial. Bagram prison was officially handed over to the Afghan government in March of 2013, however this turnover is theoretical, with the reality being that the U.S. is still in control. A few weeks ago, the Afghan government announced that they were releasing 650 prisoners from Bagram prison. The U.S. government considers 88 of those prisoners (who have never been on trial) ‘dangerous’ and demanded that they not be released.  The Afghan Government appointed a review board which decided to release 76 prisoners. As I write announcements are being made that 37 prisoners are due to be released, much to the outrage and protest of the US government. The recent wave of activity around the prisoner release is the first real awareness or knowledge many Afghan are having about Bagram.

Abdulhai reading up on Gandhi
Abdulhai reading up on Gandhi

Abdulhai, an astute 17  year old boy who lost his Father to the Taliban 12 years ago, said: “I feel the U.S. is playing power games.  Afghans need a greater awareness of what is going on .  They don’t have much information.  Maybe more awareness will be raised in the controversy over releasing prisoners from Bagram.”

Faiz, a sensitive 22 year old Tajik training to be a journalist said: “It’s not only the general public that lacks awareness, the prisoners themselves are also clueless about what is happening.  People need to understand the roots of the problem, understand U.S. support for the Mujahideen who eventually became the Taliban, and understand how it is that they are caught and stuck in prison.”

Ghulama: “It’s unknown as to whether the 3,000 prisoners are innocent or not, but based on what is known about Guantanamo it could be that the majority are innocent.”

Ghulamai in the Panjshir
Ghulamai in the Panjshir

I asked Ghulamai what he thought about Bagram as a result of his research. He said: “I think due process of law should be applied to any person arrested.  A person should be charged and tried in court, even during this war on terrorism.  The court process should follow gathering of evidence.  Lawyers should be provided for prisoners that cannot hire their own lawyers.  The case should be determined along the course of law by a judge who would then pass a sentence.  The situation for the 3,000 now involves detention without trial, no access to lawyers, and uncertainty about whether any charges have been made against them.”

Abdulhai : “The U.S. government is demonstrating that they are not subject to anyone else’s laws.  They are powerful.”

Peace volunteer Raz Mohammed, a 21 year old twinkly eyed engineering student from the volatile province of Wardak, talked about his first hand experience. His home province is an area populated mainly by Pashtoons, the ethnic group which mostly make up the Taliban. Raz explained how his neighbour Alam Gul in the Nakh district of Wardak was taken to Bagram a year ago. Alam is around 33 years old and married with children. Last year American soldiers came to his house and took him in the middle of the night. He was asleep with his family in a room when the door was broken in by soldiers shouting not to move. They searched the house and took him away, and he was sent to Bagram for 3 months. For his family it was very hard as for a month they had no idea where he was, until finally they found out he was in Bagram. After 3 months Alam Gul was released with his arrest being described by American forces as a “mistake”. Thankfully this man didn’t experience torture.

Raz Mohammed in the Panjshir
Raz Mohammed

Raz Mohammed also talked about his Uncles’ daughter’s husband Bashir, from the village of Dadal in Wardak province. It was 2 years ago and Bashir was around 26. Like Alam Gul he was taken at midnight by American soldiers but in his case there was also the assistance of local Afghan soldiers. At first he was taken to Logar province prison and tortured, before being transferred to Bagram where he was tortured further with sleep deprivation and weekly interrogations by American soldiers. This lasted for a month before he was released without charge. Bashir described Bagram as being much harder than Logar prison because of the sleep deprivation and interrogations. He was also kept in isolation and on occasions saw some people who had been held for 7 to 8 years without trial.

I asked Ghulamai if people in Afghanistan feel safer or more angry because of Bagram, he paused and calmly responded: “People are more angry.  I would be angry if I saw or experienced torture or rape, and for what? If I got sent to Bagram prison I would invite Obama to go with me.”

Read more:

UK resistance to Guantanamo:

37 Bagram prisoners are going to be released: