Will Bagram Be President Obama’s Guantanamo?

The White House declined to comment Tuesday about a letter sent by the American Civil Liberties Union asking why President Obama is refusing to make public information about the detainees imprisoned at the US military’s Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

White House spokesman Ben LaBolt forwarded a reporter to the Pentagon for comment. The Pentagon had no comment.

In April the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the CIA, Pentagon, State Department, and Justice Department for documents related to the detention and treatment of prisoners at Bagram.

“Bagram prisoners reportedly receive an even less robust and meaningful process for challenging their detention and designation as ‘enemy combatants’ than the process afforded prisoners at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay (‘Guantanamo’) - a process the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional last year,” wrote Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU’s national security project. Goodman asserted that “there is renewed public concern that Bagram has become, in effect, the new Guantanamo.”

Goodman tells ABC News that the ACLU believes the US government is “detaining upwards of 600 people” at Bagram. “We know nothing about them, we don’t know who they are or how long they’ve been there. They don’t have any access to counsel, or access to courts.” Thousands of detainees have been imprisoned at Bagram, and two have died there, she notes. Allegations have been made of prisoner abuse and torture.

The ACLU sought information about the number of those detained, their names, citizenship, place of capture, length of detention, any information about any legal process afforded those prisoners to challenge their detention, and how they became designated “enemy combatants.”

In a stark contrast to President Obama’s promise of transparency, the Pentagon followed up in a July 28 letter by telling the ACLU that the Obama administration has basic information about the detainees – a 12-page list of individuals held at the Afghan camp as of June 22 -- but is not going to share it.

Goodman said the ACLU found that letter “disappointing and surprising” given the fact that similar information about Guantanamo Detainees has been publicly released by the Pentagon. While the Pentagon was forced to disclose that information because of FOIA litigation, it was ultimately released. The Pentagon’s letter denying the release of information about Bagram detainees ”seems to be the same rationale they lost on.”

The CIA responded to the ACLU by saying it could "neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of records.”

Goodman said that response was “ludicrous” given the fact that there’s “plenty of public information that acknowledges the Bagram facility and the government’s role there.”

One of the areas of concern is that Bagram is a place where the US military transfers prisoners captures outside of Afghanistan.

In April, Judge John Bates of the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that three such prisoners -- a Tunisian man and two Yemeni men held without charge at Bagram for more than six years -- have the right to have their cases heard in US courts.

Tina Monshipour Foster, executive director of the International Justice Network , which represents the detainees, said that “despite President Obama's rhetoric regarding the closure of Guantanamo, his administration claims the right to use Bagram to imprison people indefinitely and deny them human rights.”

A British human rights group, Reprieve, recently began legal action against the UK government to find out more information about two Pakistani men captured in Iraq and rendered to Bagram.

Goodman tells ABC News that this all feels quite similar to the previous administration. “It seems like an unfortunately excessive secrecy redux,” she says. “It’s very important that the Obama administration release this information. Otherwise the public perception of Bagram as another Guantanamo will only continued to fester and grow without some basic transparency.”

-jpt

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