The Forgotten Guantanamo: Prisoner Abuse Continues at Bagram Prison in Afghanistan

By , John Goetz and Britta Sandberg

Part 2: Sleep Deprivation and Sexual Humiliation

From the beginning, Bagram was notorious for the brutal forms of torture employed there. Former inmates report incidents of sleep deprivation, beatings and various forms of sexual humiliation. In some cases, an interrogator would place his penis along the face of the detainee while he was being questioned. Other inmates were raped with sticks or threatened with anal sex.

Omar Khadr, a Canadian inmate who was 15 at the time, says military personal used him as a living mop. "Military police poured pine oil on the floor and on me. And then, with me lying on my stomach with my hands and feet cuffed together behind me, the military police dragged me back and forth through the mixture of urine and pine oil on the floor."

Photo Gallery

4  Photos
Photo Gallery: America's Torture Chamber

At least two men died during imprisonment. One of them, a 22-year-old taxi driver named Dilawar, was suspended by his hands from the ceiling for four days, during which US military personnel repeatedly beat his legs. Dilawar died on Dec. 10, 2002. In the autopsy report, a military doctor wrote that the tissue on his legs had basically been "pulpified." As it happens, his interrogators had already known -- and later testified -- that there was no evidence against Dilawar.

According to an internal military investigation of the prisoner abuse cases at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, which triggered worldwide outrage when it became public in 2004, the practices there were inspired by the treatment of inmates at Bagram.

Hundreds of Innocent Inmates

To this day, there are hardly any photos from inside Bagram, and journalists have never been given access to the detention center. Although exact numbers are unknown, there are believed to be about 600 detainees at Bagram, or close to three times as many as there currently are at Guantanamo. According to an as-yet-unpublished 2009 Pentagon report, 400 of the Bagram inmates are innocent and could be released immediately.

The detainees at Bagram still have no right to an attorney, which means that they have no legal recourse against their imprisonment and no opportunity to testify in their cases. Some have been there for years, without knowing why.

Obama has announced new guidelines for the treatment of the Bagram detainees, which would require that a US military official provide assistance to each detainee -- not as an attorney but as a personal adviser of sorts. This representative could then review evidence and witness testimony for the first time, and could request that a review board examine the case.

Worst Abuse

However attorney Tina Foster feels that the new initiative is just a cosmetic measure. "There is absolutely no difference between the Bush administration and the Obama administration's position with respect to Bagram detainees' rights," she says during an interview with SPIEGEL in her office in the New York borough of Queens.

Foster, a petite 34-year-old with dark brown eyes and black hair, took on the cases of Guantanamo detainees as an attorney with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights. That was before she discovered that the worst prisoner abuse happened long before the detainees arrived in Guantanamo -- at Bagram.

Since 2005, Foster has worked exclusively with Bagram cases. She has appeared in court to file habeas corpus petitions for three Bagram inmates. Normally, every prisoner is entitled to habeas corpus rights, which would give him the opportunity to petition a US court to investigate the reasons for his arrest.

'This Ugly Chapter of American History'

In early April of this year, a judge ruled in favor of Foster's petition, arguing that because her three clients, two Yemenis and a Tunisian, had not been "captured in a battlefield situation" in Afghanistan but instead had been taken to Bagram from a third country, they too had rights guaranteed by the US Constitution. "That was a huge success," says Foster.

Last Monday, the US Justice Department submitted a 64-page brief to the appeals court, challenging the decision. The Justice Department lawyers argued that, as a military prison in a combat zone, Bagram constitutes a special case.

Foster, who supported Obama during the campaign and then voted for him, is disappointed by her former idol. "When I heard his announcement to close Guantanamo, I breathed a sigh of relief that perhaps this extremely ugly chapter of American history was finally being put to an end," she says. "Unfortunately, since then, the Obama administration has completely failed in delivering the change that was promised."

Left in the Snow

Foster plans to continue fighting for that cause, even though one of her clients, whose witness testimony figured prominently in her case, is now dead. Jawed Ahmad, who was also known as Jojo Yazemi, was a journalist working in Afghanistan for a Canadian television station. He was 22 when he was arrested in October 2007.

The Americans accused him of being in contact with the Taliban. They incarcerated Yazemi at Bagram, where he became just another "enemy combatant" -- detainee number 3,370. They left him standing in the snow for six hours, beat him, threatened him and submitted him to sleep deprivation for weeks. It was only after fellow journalists in New York launched a major media campaign in support of Yazemi that he was released -- after 11 months and without any explanation as to why he had been detained in the first place.

Just six months after his release, gunmen driving a white Toyota pickup truck, the kind favored by many Taliban, shot and killed Yazemi in Kandahar. "It was one of the most terrible moments of my life," says Tina Foster. "He was a great person and a friend." And he was also Foster's star witness in her case against Bagram.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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