A victory for the government in a federal court in New York Monday marks another slide deeper into Dick Cheney’s “dark side” for the Obama Administration.
In a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been seeking to force the Pentagon to provide information about all captives it is holding at its huge prison facility at Bagram Airbase outside Kabul in Afghanbistan, Federal District Judge Barbara Jones of the Southern District of New York has held that the government may keep that information secret.
The lingering question is: Why does the US government so adamantly want to hide information about where captives were first taken into military custody, their citizenship, the length of their captivity, and the circumstances under which they were captured?
Says Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, “The military says that they can’t release the information because it would be a threat to national security, but they provided that information for the prisoners at Guantanamo.”
And of course, as our leaders informed us repeatedly, those captives at Guantanamo, who hailed from all over the globe, including Afghanistan, were allegedly “the worse of the worst”–at least until it turned out that many of them were wholly innocent of anything. had been framed and turned in for a bounty, or were mere children when picked up, like Omar Khadr, the 24-year old Canadian man who just copped a guilty plea to avoid a sham tribunal before 7 officers and potential life imprisonment, after being captured at 15, tortured at Bagram, and held for nine years at Guantanamo (on a charge of killing an American soldier in battle).
The court ruling keeping the information about the thousands of prisoners held at Bagram secret may be a victory for the government, but it is hardly a victory for America’s image in the world, or for the troops battling in Afghanistan, who will be attacked all the harder by people induced to fight to the death to avoid capture and consignment to the hellhole in Bagram (now known as Parwan Prison), which has become Afghanistan’s Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo rolled into one.
One of the things that concerns the ACLU is that by not even making public the circumstances under which Bagram detainees were brought into the prison, it appears likely that the administration is hiding the reality that many “probably don’t deserve to be there,” says the ACLU’s Goodman. She explains, “There could be plenty of people sitting there who were just caught up in house sweeps in Kabul, for instance.”
As well, she says that by withholding information about citizenship and about the place of initial capture, the government may be hiding the fact that it is using Bagram as it used to use Guantanamo, as a so-called “black site” for “rendering,” or bringing, people captured all around the world.
Making matters worse is a string of continuing reports from people released from Bagram, including some which are very recent, that it is a site where torture is routinely applied to prisoners.
Significantly, a second part of the court’s ruling was that the CIA does not have to confirm or deny whether it too is holding captives at Bagram. This is a serious blow too to America’s reputation and to democratic values, since when President Obama, early in his presidency, signed an executive order outlawing torture by the military, he left some major loopholes. Most significantly, he applied that order only to persons captured during “armed conflict.” Since the US doesn’t consider captives in the loosely-defined “War on Terror” to be legitimate combatants, that means many of the people held at Bagram may be considered outside of the president’s ban. The order also says captives in counterterror operations do not have to be reported to the Red Cross.
Goodman says, “Despite concerns that Bagram has become the new Guantánamo, the public remains in the dark when it comes to basic facts about the facility and whom our military is holding in indefinite military detention there. The public has a right to know how long the U.S. has kept people locked up in military detention and under what circumstances. The lack of transparency about these key facts is even more disturbing considering the possibility that the U.S. will continue holding and interrogating prisoners at Bagram well into the future. Unfortunately, today’s ruling will allow the government to continue hiding this vital information.”
When the ugly sadistic goings on at Abu Ghraib were exposed, it caused massive damage to the US, and, according to government statements at the time, ended up helping recruit more future terrorists. It seems the Obama adminstration is heading down the same road now at Bagram, with the blessing of a Judge Jones.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org