I’m gratified to see, this morning, a front-page report at the BBC on the prison at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. Hundreds of people have been held at Guantanamo; thousands have been held at Bagram.
When I joined Witness Against Torture earlier this year to protest torture and unjust detention, people passing by were often confused. Didn’t Obama promise to shut down Guantanamo? And end torture? When asked, virtually none of them had ever heard of Bagram, a place that represents a troubling wrinkle in the new administration’s attempt to look like a meaningful departure from the excesses—even crimes—of the last.
This passage is particularly telling:
Since coming to office US President Barack Obama has banned the use of torture and ordered a review of policy on detainees, which is expected to report next month.
But unlike its detainees at the US naval facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, the prisoners at Bagram have no access to lawyers and they cannot challenge their detention.
The inmates at Bagram are being kept in “a legal black-hole, without access to lawyers or courts”, according to Tina Foster, executive director of the International Justice Network, a legal support group representing four detainees.
She is pursuing legal action that, if successful. would grant detainees at Bagram the same rights as those still being held at Guantanamo Bay.
But the Obama administration is trying to block the move.
The dilemma here should be as clear for activists as for the administration. Guantanamo is in the United States’ backyard, so people’s attention will fixate on it. Bagram is out of sight, out of mind. For the sake of appearances, it might just be enough to clean up Guantanamo and say progress has been made. Not knowing better, well-meaning Americans will be satisfied. But for the sake of real justice, that is nowhere near enough. The violence being done at Bagram is affecting everyone there as we speak. And it won’t be long before the rest of us feel the ripples of its consequences.
Focusing on Guantanamo, we have to realize, is only the beginning. No torture, no inhumane treatment of prisoners, not at Guantanamo, not at Bagram, not anywhere.