What Happened to the Prisoners the US Abandoned at Bagram, Once Known as Guantánamo’s Dark Mirror?

18.2.19

Bagram and a huge US flag" a photo by Edmund Clark from his project 'The Mountains of Majeed.'Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

My thanks to Jenifer Fenton, for remembering the foreign nationals that the US left behind when it handed over Bagram prison in Afghanistan to the Afghan authorities in December 2014.

I used to write regularly about Bagram, a place of notorious torture and abuse, where an undisclosed number of prisoners died at the hands of US forces, because it had been the main processing prison for Guantánamo, and, under Barack Obama, had become a legal battlefield, as lawyers tried to secure habeas corpus rights for the men held there, so that they would at least have had comparable rights to the prisoners held at Guantánamo, who secured constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights via the Supreme Court in June 2008, even though appeals court judges subsequently gutted habeas of all meaning for them. My extensive archive of articles about Bagram is here, and in 2010 I published the first annotated list of all the prisoners held there.

Bagram was re-named the Parwan Detention Facility in 2009, and the old Soviet building that had housed America’s notorious prison — as horrendous as Abu Ghraib in Iraq, but without the photographic evidence to prove it — was subsequently destroyed by the US. The prison was handed over to the Afghan authorities in March 2013, with the final relinquishing of control taking place at the end of December 2014. Prior to this, in September 2014, I covered the US’s efforts to repatriate prisoners it had held there, in an article entitled, Two Long-Term Yemeni Prisoners Repatriated from Bagram; Are Guantánamo Yemenis Next?, in which I noted how a US military official had told the Washington Post that, at the time, the number of prisoners in US custody in Bagram — none of whom were Afghans — was down to 27. By the time of the final handover, there were just six foreign nationals held, and two of these men — Tunisians previously held in “black sites” — were freed in 2015. For an update from December 2014, see this Newsweek article, and other links here. Also see this Afghan Analysts Network article by Kate Clark from May 2017.

Bringing the story up to date for Al-Jazeera, in “What happened to prisoners at Bagram, ‘Afghanistan’s Guantanamo’?” Jenifer Fenton began by noting how, after “Washington renounced responsibility for the men once held” at Bagram/Parwan, in December 2014, “The handful of prisoners left behind became the Afghans’ problem.”

Fenton noted how one of the last four men held from the US years of control was Said Jamaluddin, a Tajik citizen, who had been given the Internment Serial Number (ISN number) 4057. Fenton described him as “innocent collateral in the US’s so-called ‘war on terror,’” and stated that he “was repatriated from Afghanistan to Tajikistan, where he faces almost-certain ill-treatment, according to legal advocates from the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, who are working on his behalf.”

The clinic also told Fenton that they believed that his brother Abdul Fatah, ISN 4058, “was also forcibly sent back.”

This was in spite of the fact that Tajikistan is notorious for human rights abuses, and Afghanistan is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture, which forbids the repatriation of any individual if there are “substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”

The Yale clinic also told Fenton of their “fears that 38-year-old Musa Akhmadjanov, an Uzbek national, ISN 20370, might soon be rendered home too.” Mohammad Waqar, the Afghanistan country director of the International Legal Foundation (ILF), said that he was being held in a prison in Kabul.

According to Fenton, “This would mean there might be just one US ‘war-on-terror’ prisoner left, an Egyptian named Abu Ikhlas al-Masri, 55, ISN 21064.” As she explained, “The Pentagon alleged he was a member of al-Qaeda with ties to the Afghan Taliban and related Afghan and Kashmiri groups,” but, crucially, “[n]o proof or any details about any of these allegations have been provided.”

Fenton also explained, “There has been no word of him for years and recent efforts to ascertain his whereabouts proved fruitless,” in large part because the Afghan government “does not publicly provide information on its security detainees.”

As she proceeded to explain —revisiting the reason why lawyers sought habeas corpus rights for the men held at Bagram — they “were not classified as prisoners of war, which would have guaranteed them certain rights,” and “[t]hey had even fewer rights than their counterparts in Guantánamo.”

Ahmed Rashid, a journalist, author and expert on Afghanistan, explained what those studying the US’s “war on terror” detention policies have long understood — that it was lawless and chaotic. “The Bagram prison was a melting pot of innocent and guilty people from all over the region,” he said, adding, “After 9/11, thousands of non-Afghans were rounded up. Many of them were totally innocent.” As Fenton put it, they included “teachers, volunteers, and aid workers.” Rashid added, “Nevertheless, they landed in Guantánamo and Bagram and the lack of due diligence … over the years just strengthened the assumptions that they were terrorists.”

From the beginning, Fenton noted, “the ‘war-on-terror’ ideology freed the American government from the rule of law.” Hope Metcalf of Yale Law School said, “While the Afghans are now the culpable party when it comes to these men, it is a mistake of the US’s making, and they need to stand up and take responsibility.” However, she added, “they refuse to accept any responsibility.”

The stories of the last of the US’s Bagram prisoners

Fenton then expanded on the story of Musa Akhmadjanov, who fled Uzbekistan at the age of 21 “because he faced religious persecution.” He traveled first to the Russian Federation where he found work “at carwash facilities and construction sites,” and then he traveled on to Iran, “where he thought it would be easier to earn a living.”

Instead, it seems, in December 2009, he was deported to Afghanistan, where “[a]fter some time, and after allegedly refusing to pay a bribe to a commander at a border patrol station near Herat, he was handed over to the Americans.” As Fenton notes, “His detention in Bagram began on May 23, 2010.”

A report by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention established that he “was subjected to physical abuse by both his American and Afghan captors during his years of detention.” Years later, as Fenton describes it, the Afghan courts “found that there was no evidence that Akhmadjanov committed a crime, and in June 2015 cleared him to leave.” However, he was, understandably, unwilling to return to Uzbekistan, where he feared torture, abuse or other ill-treatment from the Uzbek authorities.

Mohamed Waqar, of the IFL, told Fenton he had been “trying to gain access to Akhmadjanov and the Tajik brothers,” but had been refused, “despite having the proper permissions.”

Turning to the story of Said Jamaluddin, Fenton noted how, in 2007, at the age of 28, he had “left home for Mashhad, Iran, accompanied by his older brother Abdul Fatah, 37, in hopes of studying there.” She added, “Abdul Fatah returned home but reunited with his brother two years later in Afghanistan after the Iranians deported Jamaluddin for overstaying his visa.”

The two men were staying in a friend’s house in Kunduz when it was raided by US personnel. Reports indicate that “[n]o evidence of wrongdoing was found,” but in March 2009 the brothers were sent to Bagram. In 2010, and again in the years that followed, “a detainee review board comprising US military personnel ruled that the brothers’ imprisonment was unwarranted,” and yet they continued to be held.

Then, as Fenton described it, “In February 2015, after paying a heavy price of years in detention at the Parwan facility, the pair was found guilty in Afghan courts of visa-related violations, for which they could have faced a maximum of three years in prison.” They “were sentenced to prison time but were eventually ordered free by the Afghan Supreme Court.” However, “fearing ill-treatment or worse if repatriated to Tajikistan and with no third country willing to accept them, they preferred to remain in an Afghan prison” rather than returning home.

The report by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention noted that “Fatah, the elder brother, is married and had four children, and that both he and Jamaluddin “are the sons of Amriddin Tabarov, a former political activist who has been accused of being a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and of Jamaat Ansarullah, an alleged extremist group.”

The UN report also stated that, on several visits to see them in Parwan, Tajik officials “allegedly threatened the brothers.”

Wells Dixon, a senior staff lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights, told Fenton, “The US government has a legal obligation and a moral responsibility to follow up on men who are transferred out of long-term military custody, and to ensure that they aren’t tortured or killed. I worry that nearly two decades after 9/11, the US military continues to compromise its obligations under the Geneva Conventions to treat detainees humanely for the sake of expediency — and perhaps because they think no one is paying attention to these forgotten men.”

Note: For Edmund Clark’s ‘The Mountains of Majeed,’ from which the photo at the top of this article is taken, see here.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, the resistance continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

13 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, following up on Jenifer Fenton​’s recent article for Al-Jazeera looking at what has happened to the last of the prisoners seized by the US and held at their notorious prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, who were still held when the prison – renamed the Parwan Detention Facility – was handed over to the Afghan authorities in December 2014. Two Tajiks, an Uzbek and an Egyptian were all known to have still been held when the handover took place, but now it seems that the Tajiks have been repatriated, despite Tajikistan’s poor human rights record, and the Uzbek may soon be repatriated too.

    This is a sad summary of how the US’s arrogance and hubris post-9/11, which led it to tear up all international laws and treaties regarding the treatment of prisoners, is still having an baleful impact in Afghanistan, as well as for the 40 men still held at Guantanamo.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Jenifer Fenton wrote:

    Thanks Andy. In total, the US left behind six men. In addition to the men you note, two Tunisians were sent back in 2015 – Redha al-Najar, the first CIA prisoner held at “the Salt Pit,” and Lofti al-Ghrissi.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jenifer. And thanks for not forgetting about these men. I hope all is well with you.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Anna Giddings wrote:

    Thanks Andy. I’ll have a good read of this tomorrow x

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anna. Good to hear from you.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Valerie Jeans wrote:

    Thank you, Andy: all you do.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the support, Valerie!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Lorraine Barlett wrote:

    Always look fwd to your articles, Andy!

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Lorraine. I value your support!

  10. Tom says...

    Nice job on this, Andy.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. I’m particularly grateful to Jenifer Fenton for not forgetting about these men.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    “US’s arrogance and hubris post-9/11” – I would add bigotry, inhumanity and a few other terms. The people of the US remain uninformed either out of a lack of information or willful ignorance. The outrage at our inhumanity seems to have been lost amidst the insanity that has become a daily – no, an hourly event.
    Still hoping that one day we become aware but that won’t happen until the next election cycle and that only if we force the imperialists out and hold the rest to account.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the expanded version of the US crime tally, Jan – and you’re right, of course. Sadly, as in the UK, instead of there being progress in people becoming aware, we actually seem to be heading to the far right, as the election of Trump and the Brexit fiasco shows. That said, there’s an awakening of interest in socialism, but there’s little or no mainstream backing, and, primarily, I think, those who profess an interest need to start developing a militant mindset. Back in the 70s and 80s we may have lived in generally more dysfunctional times, but there was no doubting people’s appetite for the fight!

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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