January 26, 2010
On Friday January 15, 2010, the Pentagon responded to a FOIA request submitted by the ACLU last April, and released (PDF) the first ever list of 645 prisoners held, as of September 22, 2009, in the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan (the Bagram Theater Internment Facility), which has been in operation for eight years.
In the hope of making the list more readily accessible — and searchable — than it is through a poorly photocopied Pentagon document, I reproduce it as a separate web page here, with commentary on some the prisoners I have been able to identify. This is very much a work-in-progress, of course, as the state of knowledge regarding Bagram is akin to that regarding Guantánamo back in 2005, before the prisoner lists and 8,000 pages of documents were released that allowed me to research and write my book The Guantánamo Files, and to begin a new career as a full-time journalist on Guantánamo and related issues.
In an article accompanying this post, "Dark Revelations in the Bagram Prisoner List," I examined what the list — which contains only the prisoners’ names, and not their nationalities or the date and place of their capture — revealed about the small number of foreign prisoners rendered to Bagram from other countries, three of whom are currently waiting to see if the Court of Appeals will overturn the right to habeas corpus that was granted to them by Judge John D. Bates last March, and raised questions about the whereabouts of other known "ghost prisoners" who do not appear to have been included on the list.
In an article to follow, I’ll examine how the list reveals not only that around 3,000 prisoners have been held at Bagram in the last six years, but also how the majority of the prisoners listed were seized in 2008 and 2009 — and I’ll examine what this means with regard to the US administration’s detention policies and the Geneva Conventions, which were discarded by George W. Bush and have clearly not been reintroduced by Barack Obama.
Although I believe that I have had some success tracking down the stories of some of the 100 or so prisoners on the list who have been held at Bagram for between three and seven years, I have found few clues as to the identities of the majority of those listed, who, as mentioned above, were seized in the last two years. Most reports — by the US military or the media — of raids or skirmishes that led to the capture of those held have not furnished the names of those seized, and on the rare occasion that names have been provided it has tended to be because they are regarded as significant figures.
I have no idea whether the allegations against these men are true, but, more importantly, I have not failed to notice that the majority of the prisoners (often men identified by only one name) are clearly not significant figures at all, and my fear — which, I have no doubt, will be confirmed when more information emerges — is that many of them will be revealed to be victims of the same chaotic approach to the capture of prisoners that has done so much to lose the battle for the "hearts and minds" of the people of Afghanistan and Iraq for the last eight years, and which, with regard to the 218 prisoners seized in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2003 and sent to Guantánamo, I chronicled in The Guantánamo Files.
One sign that this is indeed the case was reported on NPR last August, when NPR’s Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman explained how Maj. Gen. Doug Stone had recently been sent to Afghanistan by Gen. David Petraeus, the overall commander of Afghanistan and Iraq, because he "liked the way Stone revamped the detention centers in Iraq, how he changed them for the better." Bowman explained that Stone "went to Afghanistan with a team, interviewed detainees, visited detention facilities," and produced a 700-page report, in which he estimated that "as many as 400 of the 600 held at Bagram can be released," explaining that "many of these men were swept up in raids" and "have little connection to the insurgency."
Bowman added that Maj. Gen. Stone "wants to focus on rehabilitation, just like he did in Iraq where he ran the detention system there. He had 21,000 detainees. But he found that most of these Iraqi detainees — as many as two-thirds — were not radicals, but mostly illiterate and jobless young people. Some were innocents and others worked for the insurgency because they just needed the money. And Stone worried that detaining them was only making matters worse, actually turning them into radicals."
As Stone explained to NPR at the time:
Now you’ve got a bunch of moderates who really shouldn’t be in there in the first place. And I can hold them forever, but eventually they’re going to say, "Why are you holding me? What’s the fairness in this?" And eventually they’ll say something about America that we don’t want to hear. They’re going to say, "Wait a minute, you’re not here to better the population, you’re here to conquer us and you’re taking me hostage."
If you have any further information about any of the men on this list, please feel free to email me, and I will incorporate the information into the list.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo" (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.