March 3, 2009, New York, NY— The International Justice Network (IJNetwork), the organization representing the detainees in Afghanistan held without charge by the US government, will today demand that lawmakers establish an independent national Commission on Detentions to investigate and provide a public accounting of US detention practices since September 11, 2001. Today's announcement comes only hours after a federal judge ordered the Obama administration to provide information on the number of detainees it continues to hold without charge at Bagram prison in Afghanistan.
In October of 2006, IJNetwork, who currently represents four Bagram detainees, brought the first legal challenges on behalf of detainees held by the US government at Bagram. The four men were abducted from places like Dubai and Thailand, far from any battlefield, before being transferred to Bagram and detained by the United States for more than six years. IJNetwork has called on the Obama administration to end the illegal detention, rendition, and torture of thousands of people who, like the Bagram petitioners, remain detained without any hope of release or a day in court. So far, the Obama administration has maintained the Bush administration's position that the more than 600 detainees held by the US government at Bagram have no legal rights, and it continues to deny them access to lawyers and courts. As a result, the identities of the vast majority of the detainees currently detained at Bagram continue to remain a mystery.
"There are now more than three times as many men being indefinitely and secretly detained by the Obama administration at Bagram than remain at Guantanamo," noted IJNetwork Executive Director, Tina Monshipour Foster. "It's frustrating that after seven years of fighting the very same legal battles in the Guantanamo litigation, our clients are now being forced to go to court to argue, once again, that the President of the United States cannot disappear people. Our democracy does not permit the President to hold people in secret and deny them basic legal rights, contact with their families, access to their lawyers, and the chance to demonstrate to a judge that they are being wrongly imprisoned." Foster added that "though IJNetwork will continue to represent individuals who were subjected to these unfair and abusive policies, we believe that an independent and non-partisan Commission of Inquiry appointed to conduct a thorough investigation and assessment of past detention policy would provide a credible non-partisan basis for future policy initiatives and reforms."
In recognition of the need to obtain accurate and independent information regarding detainee treatment at Bagram and other US detention facilities, IJNetwork has joined other prominent legal advocates, scholars, and military law experts in developing specific Recommendations for the Establishment of a Commission of Inquiry on Detention Practices . The Recommendations acknowledge that an independent and nonpartisan commission of inquiry is the essential first step to in reforming U.S. detention policy and safeguarding against future abuses. Thus, the recommendations affirm the importance of a full account of the facts and policies relating to the capture, detention, transfer, interrogation, and treatment of persons who have been detained by the United States since September 11, 2001. The Recommendations are being submitted for the record to the Senate Judiciary Committee in advance of tomorrow's hearing, "Getting to the Truth Through a Nonpartisan Commission of Inquiry," to be held at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, March 4th, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 106.
Today's announcement of IJNetwork's support of a Commission on Detentions comes only hours after the order issued late yesterday afternoon by US District Court Judge John Bates requiring the Obama administration provide updated information regarding the number of detainees it continues to hold in at Bagram. The Order gives President Obama until March 11, 2009 to provide updated information and numbers to the court regarding:
- The number of detainees held at Bagram
- The number who are non-Afghan nationals
- The number who were captured outside of Afghanistan
In response to a similar order entered by Judge Bates on January 7, 2009, Bush administration lawyers had previously refused to make public the number of prisoners being held at Bagram. Asserting that the information was classified, the government filed the information with the court ex parte and under seal, providing only a redacted version that omitted key information. Though the new administration might eventually choose to be more transparent than its predecessor, it is unlikely to change course significantly in the Bagram cases. President Obama has already adopted the Bush administration's legal position that detainees held in US custody in Afghanistan are not entitled to challenge their detention in any court of law. IJNetwork Press Release, Feb 21, 2009