The Bagram Detainees – Pakistanis Out Of Place

There are 33 Pakistani prisoners languishing in Afghanistan, and the Pakistani government has basically done nothing to put pressure on the Afghanistan and American political, military and prison establishment to have them released. When Pakistan’s military dictator, the self-titled President, Pervez Musharraf, could boast about Pakistan handing over 369 detainees to the United States, with people in Pakistan “earn[ing] bounties totaling millions of dollars.” (See Pervez Musharraf, In the Line of Fire: A Memoir Page 237 (2006). See Pervez Musharraf, Sab se Pahle Pakistan [Pakistan Above All] 297 (2006). it is not difficult to understand the country’s foot-dragging about these detainees. The Pakistan government has taken a further step towards the comical and denied that any of the detainees are even Pakistani.

Though much of the world’s focus has been on the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Parwan Detention Facility or also known as the Parwan Theatre Internment Facility (or as some of us call it – the Bagram gulag!) holds more prisoners, all of whom remain outside of the purview of American and International law. I suspect that the Americans  sent the men to Parwan precisely because of it being beyond the reach of the law. As the lawyer and legal activist Andy Worthington, in a piece called Obama Considers Repatriating Foreign Prisoners From Bagram, wrote:

Ten years ago, foreign prisoners, seized in other countries, began to arrive in the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. Some were held in a secretive part of the prison, and had often passed through other secret facilities in Afghanistan or elsewhere. The majority of these prisoners ended up in Guantánamo, but some were stealthily repatriated at various times. Others, however, continued to be held, beyond the rule of law.

The prison never conformed to the Geneva Conventions, which were, essentially, discarded when the Bush administration decided to hold prisoners in its “war on terror” as “illegal enemy combatants,” and have never been reinstated. Moreover, the prisoners remained beyond the law even when the Supreme Court granted habeas corpus rights to the Guantánamo prisoners in June 2004, and again in June 2008, after Congress had tried to remove these rights in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and the Military Commissions Act of 2006

This impunity from the law, and an indifference to justice, has meant that the men in Bagram have effectively been pushed down a legal black hole from which it has become impossible to anything about the conditions of their incarceration, health, the details of the cases against them, and the specifics of the military tribunal proceedings. It also creates the perfect cover for brutality, and torture.

As the reporter David Rose wrote, in a piece called Why Bagram Is Guantanamo’s Evil Twin and Britain’s Dirty Secret for The Mail Online, described what former detainees told him:

Among the loose community of former prisoners who have emerged from it, Bagram has an evil reputation.

‘Bagram is definitely the worst,’ says Omar Deghayes, a Libyan who lives in Brighton, who spent two months in Bagram after his arrest in Pakistan in 2002, then five years at Guantanamo Bay before being freed without charge.

‘At Guantanamo, things were bad, but at least there were some kind of rules, and after 2004 we had lawyers.

‘At Bagram, they still don’t, and when I was there, there was no respect for anything. The guards got away with whatever they wanted: they could beat you up when they felt like it.

‘You weren’t allowed to speak, and often I saw people being hooded and hung with handcuffs from the bars of the cages when they had been caught talking. If they slumped down through exhaustion, they were beaten.’

In fact, the extensive use of torture was confirmed in the recently released report by the Open Society Foundation called Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Detention where the authors wrote:

More than a dozen former detainees reported that they were held for weeks at the JSOC site in 2010, forced to strip naked and kept in solitary confinement in windowless, often cold cells with lights on 24 hours a day. A 2010 Open Society Foundations report based on interviews with over 20 former detainees reportedly held at a secret JSOC facility at Bagram Air Base confirmed that the detainees were subjected to nudity upon arrival, excessive cold, excessive lighting, and sleep deprivation due to accumulation of circumstances, among other forms of ill-treatment. (Globalizing Torture, Page 21)

The report makes for seriously difficult reading. I highly recommend it.

The prisoners, like Amanatullah Ali, remain in a legal limbo. And they do so because that is precisely what the American’s intended to do. The anthropologist Daryl Li coined the phrase ‘Muslims out of place’ to explain the American effort to simultaneously justify its presence in invaded nations as legitimate, while that of non-nationals as ‘illegitimate’ and ‘suspect’:

Just as the standard refrain that one must distinguish between “moderate” and “radical” Muslims presupposes the need to know all Muslims, the concern over foreign (Muslim) fighters necessarily renders Muslim foreigners into a categorical object that must be known and appropriately dealt with. This category can be referred to as “Muslims out of place. Since the early 1990s, the U.S. government and its allies have pursued various campaigns against out-of-place Muslims… [one] approach is not to erase out-of-placeness, but to perpetuate it by detaining such individuals in third countries with which they have no apparent relationship.

After the 9/11 attacks, the United States developed mechanisms for direct control over out-of-place Muslims through indefinite extra-territorial detention and interrogation, either openly at Guantánamo or the Bagram Theater Internment Facility in Afghanistan, or covertly in “black sites” in Afghanistan, eastern Europe, or southeast Asia…

Such arrangements, paradoxically, radicalize the out-of-placeness of the people they target: instead of repatriating these individuals and clearly assigning responsibility for controlling them to their own governments, the United States suspends detainees in a zone of legal ambiguity, beyond the protection of their own governments, as well as outside the concern of the states hosting them.

(Li, Daryl A Universal Enemy: ‘Foreign Fighters’ and Legal Regimes of Exclusion and Exemption Under the ‘Global War on Terror’, Page 375 – 377)

The struggle for the release of the 33 men being held at the Parwan Detention Facility continues, and the Pakistani Government’s dragging of its feet continues. Men like Amanatullah Ali, who have been held at Parwan without charge for over ten years. In an effort to highlight the human aspect of this tragedy, and the injustices inflicted on the detainees, I am meeting with the families of the detainees and their wait for the return of the men to their families.