"While an international debate rages over the future of the American
detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the military has quietly expanded
another, less-visible prison in Afghanistan, where it now holds some 500
terror suspects in more primitive conditions, indefinitely and without
That is the opening line of a front-page article in Sunday's New York Times
detailing the US-run prison at Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul. The Times
reports that some of the detainees at Bagram have been held for as long as
two or three years. Unlike those at Guantanamo, they have no access to
lawyers, no right to hear the allegations against them and only rudimentary
reviews of their status as "enemy combatants." One Pentagon official told
the Times the current average stay of prisoners at Bagram was 14.5 months.
The numbers of detainees at the base had risen from about 100 at the start
of 2004 to as many as 600 at times last year. The paper says the increase is
in part the result of a decision by the U.S. government to shut off the flow
of detainees to Guantanamo Bay after the Supreme Court ruled that those
prisoners had some basic due-process rights. The question of whether those
same rights apply to detainees in Bagram has not been tested in court.
While Guantanamo offers carefully scripted tours for members of Congress and
journalists, Bagram has operated in rigorous secrecy since it opened in 2002
It bars outside visitors except for the International Red Cross and refuses
to make public the names of those held there. The prison may not be
photographed, even from a distance.
Citing unnamed military officials and former detainees, the Times reports
that prisoners at Bagram are held by the dozen in wire cages, sleep on the
floor on foam mats and are often made to use plastic buckets for latrines.
Before recent renovations, detainees rarely saw daylight except for brief
visits to a small exercise yard. The U.S. military on Sunday defended Bagram
air base saying detainees there are treated humanely and provided "the best
possible living conditions."
But evidence of abuse of prisoners at Bagram has emerged over the years. In
December 2002, two Afghan prisoners were found dead, hanging by their
shackled wrists in isolation cells at the prison. An Army investigation
showed they were treated harshly by interrogators, deprived of sleep for
days, and struck so often in the legs by guards that a coroner compared the
injuries to being run over by a bus. No one has been prosecuted for the
deaths, though both were ruled homicides and the Army claims the men were
beaten to death inside the jail.
We are joined on the line by Clive Stafford Smith, a British-born human
rights lawyer who represents 40 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, many of whom
passed through Bagram Air Base. He is legal director of the charity Reprieve
We are also joined by Michael Ratner, president of the Center for
Clive Stafford Smith, a British-born human rights lawyer who represents 40
detainees at Guantanamo Bay, many of whom passed through Bagram Air Base. He
is legal director of the charity Reprieve.
Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
AMY GOODMAN: We're joined on the phone right now from London by Clive
Stafford Smith, a British-born human rights lawyer who represents 40
detainees at Guantanamo Bay, many of whom passed through the Bagram Air Base
He is legal director of the charity, Reprieve. He joins us on the phone
from London. Welcome to Democracy Now!
CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: Itís good to have you with us. Can you tell us what you know of
CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: Yes, and, of course, a lot of it is laid out in the
New York Times, but there are some things that are considerably worse than
represented there. For example, there is an area of Bagram that is not open
to the Red Cross, as one of our clients, Mamdou Habib said. The most
frightening moment he had in Bagram was when the Red Cross came and he
didnít get to see them. And thereís a cellar area in Bagram, a dark -- a
place thatís kept perpetually dark, which is where a number of prisoners are
kept away from the Red Cross itself. And, of course, if you think about
being a prisoner in those circumstances, your natural assumption is if the
military doesn't want the Red Cross to know you exist, then your fate is
probably not going to be a very pleasant one, and naturally a number of
those people have been moved off and rendered to other countries, where they
have been abused. And some of them weíve caught up with again in Guantanamo,
but many haven't. Theyíve disappeared.
AMY GOODMAN: We're also joined in our studio by Michael Ratner, President of
the Center for Constitutional Rights. Does the Center represent people at
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, like Clive, the Center has many of the similar clients
who have been through Bagram on their way to Guantanamo. And Moazzam Begg is
another one whose story has just come out, how he was taken to Bagram,
beaten, etc., and then went to Guantanamo. We are in contact with people who
have family members, who have people in Guantanamo, and as Clive said, a lot
of this has been known for a couple Ė more than two or three years. I mean,
the people who were hung and tortured and killed. The underground prison has
been known, and whatís really incredibly frustrating Ė you feel like
Sisyphus, rolling the stone up the hill, when you think about finally
getting some rights for people and visits to Guantanamo, and then what
happens is the administration really goes and continues its illegality in
other prisons around the world. So what it really says is that, yes, the
struggle is around one prison like Guantanamo, but we have to really root
out completely what this administration is doing around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, can you, though, explain? I mean, it sounds like the
reason Bagram is growing is because of all of the international outcry
around Guantanamo, but also Guantanamo's legal relationship with the United
States on a U.S. air base in Cuba. Can you explain the legality of
Afghanistan, where Bagram is and Guantanamo, these two detention camps?
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, both Clive and I were in the early case about
Guantanamo, in which the U.S. tried to say Guantanamo was like Bagram, that
there were no legal rights there. You couldn't go to court for people in
Guantanamo. They had no constitutional rights, and the U.S. said it could do
what it wanted to people at Guantanamo. We won a big case in the Supreme
Court, the Rasul case in June of 2004, that opened the courts to people at
Guantanamo and opened them so people like Clive and Center lawyers could go
Even with that, those set of rights, the administration, in the Graham-Levin
Bill and the Detainee Treatment Act, is trying to eliminate even those
rights we won in the Supreme Court. But as far as Bagram is concerned, the
legal position of the administration is similar to what it was about
Guantanamo. There are no legal rights, but they have the additional argument
that they would make, that because itís not on a U.S. permanent military
base like the one in Cuba, that thereís even fewer rights.
I don't think they're correct. I think that any person detained anywhere in
the world has a right to go into a court, has a right to be visited by an
attorney, but the administration's view is whatever Guantanamo rights are,
the rights at Bagram are nil, absolutely none, and so what they did,
according to the Times report, was a few months after we won the Rasul case,
they said they stopped sending people to Guantanamo and started to send them
to other places Ė Bagram is the one that we know the most about at this
point Ė because the administration's view is that no court, no lawyer, no
one, has any right to visit anyone in Guantanamo -- anyone in Bagram, and
that nobody --and that the people at Bagram have no legal rights at all. An
extraordinary statement in todayís world.
AMY GOODMAN: Clive Stafford Smith, your response, and also what is the role,
if any, of Britain in Bagram?
CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: Well, my response is that I think, as Michael and I
and many others have said for a long time, Guantanamo is something of a
distraction. That people -- if you think people have been badly treated in
Guantanamo, you should see whatís happened to them in other places, and
whatís of real concern, arising out of the New York Times article, is this:
The Times mentioned one flight. It was actually September 19, 2004 where ten
people were brought to Guantanamo. I represent a couple of those. Of those
ten, all of them are extraordinary cases where people were taken and abused
horribly in other places.
One of my clients is Binyam Mohammed. He was rendered to Morocco. Weíve got
the flight logs. We know the very names of the soldiers who were on the
flight, and he was taken there, and he was tortured for 18 months, a razor
blade taken to his penis, for goodness sake, and now the U.S. military is
putting him on trial in Guantanamo. Hassin bin Attash, a 17 year-old
juvenile who was taken to Jordan and tortured there for 16 months. There is
a series of these people.
Now, what that prompts is this question, that the people who have been most
mistreated in Guantanamo were mistreated elsewhere, and then the
administration took a very small number of them to Guantanamo, but the vast
majority of them are either in Bagram or in these secret prisons around the
world. And most recently, we heard of Poland. Weíve heard of Morocco. Weíve
heard of various places.
What I'm afraid is the truth is that the most shocking abuses have yet to
come to light, that these people are in Bagram and have yet to talk to
anybody, and what the administration is doing is hiding these ghastly
secrets. Now, the question is: What are they going to do about that? What
are they going to do when it becomes necessary at some point for these
prisoners to be given lawyers? Thereís a lot of horror stories, and the
administration is just not going to want those horror stories to come out.
So where are these prisoners going to be sent? Are they going to vanish
And unfortunately, the U.S. administration has shown that it is willing to
send people to Egypt, where they may disappear, to Morocco, where they get
razor blades taken to them, and weíve got to find out the names of these
people first, because the government won't tell us, and then weíve got to
prevent them from being rendered to some country where they effectively die
after a bit of torture.
Iíll be glad to go on to the British part, but I know I have talked too much
I donít want to rant on forever.
AMY GOODMAN: Clive Stafford Smith, I wanted to ask you about a piece that
appeared in a paper in your country in the Guardian by Suzanne Goldenberg
and James Meek. It says, "New evidence has emerged that U.S. forces in
Afghanistan engaged in widespread Abu Ghraib-style abuse, taking trophy
photographs of detainees and carrying out rape and sexual humiliation.
Documents obtained by the Guardian contain evidence that such abuse took
place in the main detention center at Bagram, near the capital, Kabul, as
well at a smaller U.S. installation near the southern city of Kandahar. A
thousand pages of evidence from U.S. Army investigations released to the
ACLU after a long battle, made available to the Guardian."
And then inside, it says, "The latest allegations from Afghanistan fit a
pattern of claims of brutal treatment made by former Guantanamo Bay
prisoners and Afghans held by the U.S. In December, the U.S. said eight
prisoners had died in custody in Afghanistan," and this is according to you,
"A Palestinian says he was sodomized by American soldiers in Afghanistan.
Another former prisoner of U.S. forces, a Jordanian, describes a form of
torture which involved being hung in a cage from a rope for days. Hussein
Abdelkader Youssef Mustafa, a Palestinian living in Jordan, told Clive
Stafford Smith he was sodomized by U.S. soldiers during detention at Bagram
in 2002. He said, ĎThey forcibly rammed a stick up my rectum Ė
excruciatingly painful. Only when the pain became overwhelming did I think I
would ever scream, but I could not stop screaming when this happened.í"
CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: Yeah, you know, Hussein Mustafa, I met with him in
Jordan, and he was an incredibly credible person. He is a dignified older
gentleman, about now 50 years old, and he wanted to talk about what had
happened to him, but he really didnít want to talk about that sexual stuff,
and in the end, you know, I said to him, "Look, you donít have to, but itís
very important if things happened, that the story get out, so they don't
happen to other people," and in the end he did, and it was in front of half
a dozen people who were just transfixed as he described how four soldiers
took him, one on each shoulder, one bent down his head and then the fourth
of them took this broomstick and shoved it up his rectum.
Now there was no one in that room -- and they were from a variety of places
-- who didn't believe that what this man was saying was true, but I am
afraid, Iíve got to tell you, that thatís far from the worst thatís happened
When you talk about Bagram, when you talk about Kandahar, those arenít the
worst places the U.S. has run in Afghanistan. The dark prison, sometimes
called "Salt Pit," in Kabul itself, which is separate from Bagram, has been
far worse than that, and I can tell you stories from there that just make
your skin crawl.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, why don't you tell us something about this place?
CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: Yeah, I'll tell you some of the ones, for example,
that Binyam Mohammed told me. He was the man who had the razor blade taken
to him. He was then taken, and again, we can prove it. Weíve got the flight
logs. He was taken on January 25, 2004, to Kabul, where he was put in this
dark prison for five months, and he was shackled. You just get this vision
of the Middle Ages, where heís shackled on the wall with his hands up, so he
can't quite sit down. Itís totally dark in that place.
When the U.S. says that people are being treated nicely in Bagram, youíve
got to be kidding me. Itís the middle of winter, and they're freezing to
death, and this man was in this cell, no heating, absolutely freezing, no
clothing, except for his shorts, totally dark for 24 hours a day with this
howling noise around him. They began with Eminem music, interestingly enough
they played him Eminem music for 24 hours a day for 20 days. Seems to me
Eminem ought to be suing them for royalties over that, but then it got worse
and they started doing these screeching noises, and this is going on 24
hours a day, and in the mean time they would bring him out very briefly just
to beat him, and this is to try to get this man to confess to stories that
they now want him to repeat in military commissions in Guantanamo, and they
want to say, "Oh, everything's nice now."
And what he went through, he said, was far worse than the physical torture,
this psychological torture that some pervert was running in the dark prison
in Kabul was worse to him, and he still suffers from it day in, day out,
because of what it has done to his mind, and this is the Ė what we have to
remember is there is someone out there who is thinking this stuff up and who
is then saying that we need to do it, and this isnít some lowly guard who
loses control and does something terrible thatís physical. I mean, thatís
awful. But youíve got someone out there who is thinking through how weíre
going to torture these people with this excruciating noise and these other
things, and they're doing this very, very consciously, and the story has a
long way before itís going to be out fully.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Michael Ratner, what oversight is there?
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, as Clive is saying, there isn't, and I think, you know
weíre putting this huge effort into closing down Guantanamo, which is
crucial, obviously, to do. It will be a major victory, but what weíre
running is these so-called "black sites," torture chambers all around the
world, and there isnít any oversight. Our Congress is just sitting on its
hands, not doing anything. The most they ask is they say, "Give us a report
on black sites." Even that isnít getting through. We have nothing.
This country is running torture chambers around the world right now, and
Clive's stories, our clientsí stories, are incredibly dramatic, and his
point about the psychological torture is crucial. Itís what Clive is saying,
people have thought about this, but this is something that has been U.S.
policy for 40 years of how to really deal with people, not just physically,
but with psychological torture, and one of your former guests, I think Al
McCoy, had this on in A Question of Torture, saying, this is what really
affects people. Physically, yes, hurts them, but the psychological marks of
torture, and when you see the pictures from Bagram to Guantanamo, you know
that this is stuff that is not just chance or random. This is going by the
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to talk about this article in the New Yorker that Jane
Mayer had written about Colonel Louie Morgan Banks, a senior Army
psychologist who played a significant advisory role in interrogations at
Guantanamo Bay. Asked to provide details of his consulting work, he said,
quote, "I just don't remember any particular cases. I just consulted
generally on what approaches to take. It was about what human behavior in
captivity is like." Banks has a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of
Southern Mississippi. A biographical statement for an American Psychological
Association Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security, which
Banks serves on, mentions that he, quote, "provides technical support and
consultation to all Army psychologists providing interrogation support." It
also notes that starting in November of 2001, Banks was detailed to
Afghanistan where he spent four months at Bagram Air Field, quote,
"supporting combat operations against al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters."
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, whatís remarkable about Banks is he also consulted on
Guantanamo. So here you have this guy who is a psychologist, consulting
really on how to break people through psychological -- psychological torture
is what I would call it, and then he goes from Guantanamo to Bagram. This is
not chance. This is not a few bad apples. This is high-level military people
working with our military, our C.I.A., in how to break people through
CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: When you're talking "break people," and I think thatís
a very important word. You know, people bang on about whether itís torture
or whether itís coercion. Well our highest officials have said that the
purpose of all of this is to, quote, "break" somebody, and we get people to
confess to stuff thatís absolute drivel. You take, for example, Binyam
Mohammed, again. You have a razor blade taken to you, you have the
psychological stuff, youíre going to say anything.
They got Binyam Mohammed to confess that he had dinner with Khalid Sheikh
Mohammed, Ramsey bin al-Shaid, Abu Zubaydah, Sheikh al-Libbi, and Jose
Padilla all together on April 3, 2002, in Pakistan. Well, you know, quite
apart from anything else, two of them, Abu Zubaydah and Sheikh al-Libbi were
in U.S. custody at the time when he confessed to that and at the time that
he was meant to be having dinner, and you know, this is a guy that didnít
speak Arabic who was meant to be hobnobbing with half of al-Qaeda. You get
this total drivel out of this breaking of people, and yet, for some reason,
the people who are designing Guantanamo think we should carry on breaking
them, as did the Spanish Inquisition. Itís very odd.
MICHAEL RATNER: Thatís correct. I mean, itís Ė they break them; they get
drivel; they get false stories, and so whatís going on? Whatís going on, I
think, in part, is an attempt to terrorize people, terrorize the Muslim
world and say, "You come into U.S. hands, and we will terrorize you." And
thatís what theyíre doing.
CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: Donít you think though, Michael Ė I tell you, I think
thereís a slightly bigger danger here, which is the people who are doing
this abuse believe the stuff they get. This is whatís frightening to me,
that we end up making decisions based on this nonsense.
MICHAEL RATNER: You know, itís true. They do believe it. I think, when you
talk to your clients or we talk to ours, the people who are interrogating
them actually believe what they're telling them, even though itís utterly
and complete drivel.
AMY GOODMAN: Weíre going to have to leave it there. Joining us next is Maher Arar. He is a Canadian citizen who was -- well, the U.S. government calls it "extraordinary rendition," others call it "kidnapped" -- when he was transiting through Kennedy Airport from a family vacation to Canada and sent to Syria, was tortured there and held for almost a year. We have been speaking with Clive Stafford Smith, a British human rights lawyer. Michael Ratner will stay with us, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
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