The Black Hole Of Bagram

There is ample reason to fear for the welfare and mental health of the men imprisoned at Bagram. Since its creation the prison at the Bagram Air Base has been notorious for its brutal and inhumane treatment of the prisoners. At least two of its commanders have been suspected of approving and using harsh and brutal interrogation techniques. US Army investigators have bought up at least 27 Bagram based interrogators, though only 4 of these were ever prosecuted. It was also where the infamous Private First Class Damien M. Corsetti, known in turns as the “King of Torture” and “Monster.”, operated. During the course of a military tribunal hearing, one which cleared him of all wrong doing, Corsetti revealed many details, including sexual humiliation, threats of rape, and, as he quotes:

”In…Bagram they [the prisoners] were tortured to make them suffer, not to get information out of them.” And, he adds, the fact is that at times the torture had no other goal that “to punish them for being terrorists. They tortured them and didn’t ask them anything.” That, he says, was the case with the practice known as “the submarine” [waterboarding]: to simulate the drowning of the prisoner. Corsetti explains: “They have them hooded and they pour water on them. That makes it very difficult to breathe. I don’t think you can die through being subjected to the submarine. I certainly never saw anyone die. However, they do cough like crazy because they are totally submerged in water and that gets in their lungs. Perhaps what it can give you is serious pneumonia.” He also says, “The civilians who took part in the interrogations used the submarine whenever they wanted. They gave it to them for five or 10 minutes and didn’t ask anything.”

Under Captin Carolyn Cook, who ran the prison from mid- 2002 to mid-2003 before moving on to Abu Ghraib in Iraq, interrogation tactics came to include beatings, anal violation with sharp objects, blows to the genitals, and “peroneal” strikes (an incapacitating blow to the leg with a baton, a knee, or a shin). These techniques were revealed as a result of an internal Army investigation into the death of a 22-year old Afghan taxi driver – an event documented in Alex Gibney’s documentary  film Taxi To The Dark Side.  A coroner’s report said the two men died after being subjected to dozens of peroneal strikes. According to the coroner’s report, the “pulpified” legs of one of the corpses looked as if they had “been run over by a bus.”

Though in 2007 the US army claimed that it has made significant improvements in the conditions and practices at the prison, reports of the extreme abuse of prisoners continued and continue to emerge. A recent Afghan government report revealed that prisoners are still being subjected torture and harsh and cruel treatment. Many have argued that conditions in the Bagram prison, and the treatment of prisoners, is far worse than anything done at Guantanamo. As Tina Foster, a human rights lawyer explained:

Many of our former clients were subjected to sexual humiliation and assault akin to Abu Ghraib-style torture. In terms of torture and abuse, Bagram has a far worse history than Guantanamo. There are at least two detainees who died there after being tortured by US interrogators. One of them was strung up by interrogators by his wrists, and then beaten until his legs were “pulpified,” according to the military’s own autopsy report. Our clients who have been released more recently report exposure to extreme temperatures, sleep deprivation, prolonged isolation and other torture that is still ongoing. Bagram has always been a torture chamber — there is no way that the United States will ever be able to rid it of that reputation unless it discontinues the practice of holding detainees incommunicado and in secret.

Despite an official handover of the prison to the AFghan authorities, the US continues to main control of all non-Afghan nationals, including 35 Pakistanis, held there. And there is no sign of the Americans preparing to close the prison even past 2014, the much stated date of American military departure from Afghanistan. The Americans are determined to hold on to those they fear they cannot prosecute in federal prisons, or simply return to their home countries.

Evidence of torture and inhuman treatment continues to come in. Ex-prisoners describe in grisley detail the humiliations and violence they were subjected to. But the prison remains, and so do dozens of men who have no recourse to the law, lawyers or appeal. They and their families remain trapped in uncertainty, and fearful for their lives and welfare. There is, given the clearly and precise evidence that has emerged, and the near impossibility of verifying US military claims to the contrary, that the families have a lot to be concerned about.