New York, NY, January 23, 2009-- In light of yesterday's Executive Order by President Barack Obama to close Guantanamo and end some of the Bush Administration's most infamous detention practices, Judge John D. Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has given the Obama Administration until February 20th to "refine" its legal position with respect to detainees held at Bagram Airfield Prison in Afghanistan as well.
Judge Bates issued the order late yesterday afternoon in four cases brought on behalf of Bagram detainees by the International Justice Network, the organization representing men held without charge by the U.S. government in Afghanistan. Bagram currently holds nearly three times the number of prisoners as Guantanamo.
On January 7th, 2009, Bush Administration lawyers argued that the cases Al Maqalah v. Gates; Al Najar v. Gates; Al Bakri v. Bush; and Wazir v. Rumsfeld should be dismissed because detainees brought to Bagram (rather than Guantanamo) are not entitled to any legal protection under U.S. law. After hearing legal arguments in the cases, Judge Bates ordered the Department of Defense to provide more information regarding the number of detainees at Bagram who, like Petitioners, were brought to the facility from outside of Afghanistan, and have remained imprisoned there without access to any legal process--many for more than six years. On January 16th, the Department of Defense provided the information to the court under seal, but refused to make the information available to detainees counsel or to the public.
Judge Bates's decision cited yesterday's Executive Orders as "indicating significant changes to the government's approach to the detention, and review of detention, of individuals currently held at Guantanamo Bay." Judge Bates went on to note that "[a] different approach could impact the Court's analysis of certain issues central to the resolution of these cases as well."
Prior to yesterday's order from Judge Bates, the Obama administration had not planned to make any changes in detention policy at Bagram. At a White House Press Briefing on the Executive Orders signed by President Obama yesterday, a member of the press corps asked a senior administration official if "terror suspects who are apprehended by American authorities will continue to go to Bagram?" The Obama official's answer was not to expect any changes to existing policies in Afghanistan for at least six months. Yesterday's order gives the new adminstration approximately one month to decide whether to change its legal position with respect to detainees held at Bagram.
A copy of Judge Bates's order is available at www.ijnetwork.org
Order Inviting New Administration to Provide Input ( pdf )
Executive Order - Review of Detention Policy Options (pdf )