Prisoners at the US military's Bagram air base prison in Afghanistan could potentially vanish and never be heard from again thanks to a federal court decision on Monday that allowed US officials to keep secret most information related to their captives.
The prison, now known as Parwan, reportedly houses as many as 800 prisoners captured amid America's terror war and has been the source of numerous allegations of torture and abuse over the years since its establishment shortly after the US invasion. Within the prison but in a separate facility resides a reported "black hole," where prisoners are interrogated.
The BBC interviewed nine people who say they were held in the "black hole" and found a pattern of allegations charging sleep deprivation and other advanced torture techniques were employed against prisoners. The site had apparently been used by the Central Intelligence Agency as one of its so-called "black sites" for the interrogation of prisoners, but since President Obama ordered the closure of the secret prisons, Bagram has taken on a more Gitmo-like image and application.
Even though President Obama also ordered the end of abusive interrogation practices, allegations of torture at the Afghan prison surfaced as recently as 10 days ago. A report based on interviews of 18 detainees who say they were held at a facility matching the description of the jail places the time of abuse long after the military had allegedly reformed its operation.
Ruling on a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the US District Court for the Southern District of New York refused to order the Pentagon to turn over information related to Afghan prisoners of war.
"In denying the ACLU's motion, the court also ruled that the CIA did not act improperly when it refused to even confirm or deny whether the CIA had records about the rendition and interrogation of Bagram detainees," the ACLU noted in a media advisory.
Melissa Goodman, an ACLU staff attorney, said that the decision will keep the public "in the dark" when it comes to the actions of its military and the treatment of prisoners.
"The public has a right to know how long the U.S. has kept people locked up in military detention and under what circumstances," she said. "The lack of transparency about these key facts is even more disturbing considering the possibility that the U.S. will continue holding and interrogating prisoners at Bagram well into the future. Unfortunately, today's ruling will allow the government to continue hiding this vital information."
Faced with another lawsuit by the ACLU earlier this year, the US military was forced to release a long-secret list of prisoners at Bagram, showing approximately 645 captives being held at the facility. A follow-up by the BBC put that number closer to 800, thanks to an increase in prisoner intake likely linked to Obama's troop surge and an uptick in combat operations.
In the wake of controversies over the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Sec. of State Colin Powell, said that the Bush administration knew some 90 percent of its terror war prisoners were innocent.
"The US military itself has admitted that about 80% of those at Bagram are probably not hardened terrorists," the BBC noted.