Human Rights First Calls for Full Investigation of Bagram’s “Black Prison”
(Washington DC December 2, 2009) Human Rights First is calling for a full investigation of the so-called “black prison” at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Responding to allegations that teenagers held at the secret facility were subjected to beatings, sexual abuse, and sleep deprivation during incommunicado detention, the rights group called on Afghanistan Commander Vice-Admiral Robert Harward and U.S. authorities to “conduct a thorough investigation, not only into the truth of the allegations, but if they are substantiated, into how and why the chain of command either authorized or failed to prevent the abuses.”
“These allegations raise serious questions about whether reforms initiated by the Obama administration are being properly implemented and about whether they are sufficient to end torture and detainee abuse,” the organization stated in a December 1 letter to Vice-Admiral Harward. “If substantiated, the alleged conduct of detaining authorities is in violation of U.S. law, including the Detainee Treatment Act, and the 2006 Army Field Manual, which is applicable to all U.S. government agencies. It is also in violation of international law, including Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention against Torture.”
The letter stated that the results of any U.S. investigation and any recommendations that follow must be made public to ensure that the abuses, if substantiated, do not recur and that the perpetrators are held accountable.
In addition, Human Rights First urged U.S. authorities to grant the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) prompt access to all detainees brought to Bagram Air Base. The letter to Vice-Admiral Harward voiced concerns about reports that the ICRC was not notified of detainees being held in a facility run by Special Operations Forces on Bagram Air Base before the summer of 2009 and questioned why U.S. authorities have failed to comply with an Afghan law requiring AIHRC access to the Bagram facility.
“Incommunicado detention remains a fertile ground for violations of the obligation under the Army Field Manual, the Detainee Treatment Act, other U.S. laws, and under international treaties to which the United States is party, to treat detainees humanely,” the letter cautioned.
In October 2008, Human Rights First’s 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. That Order, however, incorporates army regulations that provide no specific deadline after detention begins and by which ICRC access must be given. A more recent Obama Administration policy directive requires ICRC notification within 14 days of arrival at the detention facility, a lag that Human Rights First notes creates conditions under which abuses can occur.