The US-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), now officially called the Security and Defence Cooperation Agreement, a copy of which AAN has obtained, says the US shall not “maintain or operate detention facilities in Afghanistan.” It appears then, that the US foreign detention facility at Bagram, often referred to as the ‘other Guantanamo’, will close by the end of the year. The US has been making huge efforts to release detainees and so shrink the Bagram ‘problem’, probably pushed by uncertainty over its legal authority to detain after 31 December when, in President Obama’s words, “America’s combat mission [in Afghanistan] will be over.” There are now just 13 detainees left there, down from about 70, a year ago. As Kate Clark reports, the rapid pace of releases also shows just how many long-term detainees should have been released years ago. The US handed over the Afghan side of Bagram eighteen months ago. The newly signed BSA suggests it will be ending foreign detentions too, by the end of the year. (photo: Tolo)
This dispatch updates information published by AAN on detainees held in Bagram at the end of August. We have obtained fresh information on current detainees and on recent and previous releases. We thought readers might appreciate all the information, new and old, being collated and published in one place.
Among the two dozen articles and 24 pages of the BSA, which was signed by newly appointed National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar and the US ambassador, James Cunningham on 30 September, (AAN analysis of the whole agreement will follow in a future dispatch) lies a half sentence related to Bagram:
United States forces shall not… maintain or operate detention facilities in Afghanistan. (Article 3.3)
The statement appears categorical. The US detention facility on the Bagram airbase, which has been in operation since late 2001, a place of at least two deaths early on because of torture and ill-treatment, where detainees have been kept without trial or even the disclosure of their names should, it appears, soon be closing. Afghan detainees had already been handed over on 25 March 2013 (since then, the Karzai administration has sought to chip away at any remaining US involvement in detentions (see here and here), but the US kept hold of the foreign detainees at Bagram (see lists of current detainees and those recently released at the end of this dispatch).
Among those held at Bagram are men captured fighting in Afghanistan who have clear links to al-Qaeda or Pakistani extremist groups. Others were rendered to Afghanistan by the CIA under the Bush presidency. Many appear to have been wrongly accused – framed because of bounties offered for al-Qaeda fighters, or mistakenly identified as combatants. Indeed, many of those held at Bagram or recently released have or had been there for more than a decade. At least some of those now being transferred to home or third countries were cleared for release years ago. The recent rapid pace of transfers (according to US military spokesmen, numbers have dropped from fewer than 70 a year ago to 13 today) shows that it was lack of political will – from the US and often also from home countries – that has meant dozens of men being needlessly kept locked up for years.
The US military has always maintained complete secrecy surrounding the identities of those it held, something which made miscarriages of justice easy. Unlike Guantanamo, the US courts decided not to allow habeas corpus for those at Bagram, ie the right to have their detention justified in a court of law, and this also meant no access for lawyers. Unlike the Afghan detainees whom the US also used to intern at Bagram, the foreigners have not even benefited from domestic pressure from relatives and government or visits by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. Only the International Committee of the Red Cross has had access to them.
Yet, as AAN reported a year ago, the legal problem of what to do with the detainees at the end of the US combat mission in Afghanistan was already looming. Under the Laws of Armed Conflict, the authority to detain military prisoners ends when hostilities cease (with a grace period for organising their release). The US might have argued that the BSA gave it legal authority to continue detaining. However, the text of the BSA suggests it has, instead, opted to close Bagram.
That the US military has been urgently focussed on getting Bagram clear of detainees before the end of the year is clear not just from the pace of transfers, but also the words of Brigadier General Patrick Reinert, commanding general of the United States Army Reserve Legal Command, who spoke to Reuters earlier this week . He spoke about the options available to him on dealing with detainees:
“We’ve got to resolve their fate by either returning them to their home country or turning them over to the Afghans for prosecution or any other number of ways that the Department of Defense has to resolve,” he told Reuters. “Until the country provides assurances, the individual cannot be transferred.”
The US will only transfer a detainee to another country if it has credible assurances that he will not ‘return to terrorism’ or be tortured (it is illegal to transfer where there is a risk of torture). Transfer to the Afghan authorities for continued detention or prosecution risks the same problems (and there are indications that the state, certainly under Karzai, did not want any foreign detainees (1)). The US could bring individuals to the US mainland for prosecution or, if no other option is feasible, Reinhart said, it could transfer them to Guantanamo Bay, although that might run into the same legal challenges as detaining them in Afghanistan. These last two options, however, would likely face political opposition in the US. Moreover, it would be problematic to put anyone on trial who has been tortured or rendered – embarrassing secrets might be revealed in court or judges might throw out the cases.
A US military spokesman told AAN 13 men are now being held at Bagram. Below is a list of those AAN thinks are still there (although as the US does not identify those it holds, we can not be certain). There are still some men who, if our details are correct, look to be ‘release material’. At least one, Irek Hamidullan (US military’s spelling), a Russian, has been cited by the US as a possible candidate for trial on the US mainland. Others would appear to fall into the category of ‘Enduring Security Threats’, those whom the US military would not want to see freed, but also would not want to or could not put on trial. However, whatever it choses to do with them, it seems clear decisions must be made in the next three months.
The last time AAN tried to count and identify the detainees in August, we under-reported the numbers. The following list should be more accurate because we know the exact number of those currently held. There have also been fresh releases and new information about current detainees and previous releases. Below are two lists: one of those currently detained and the second of recent releases.
Annex 1: Names and detail about the foreign detainees at Bagram (included, where known, is the ISN (Internment Serial Number), the detainee’s identity number at Bagram.)
1 Muhammad Abdullawi. Described in the leaded ISAF report State of the Taliban (2) as “Moroccan German foreign fighter Zabul.” His detention on 8 May 2011 in Ghazi Kelay, near Qalat during a joint ISAF-Afghan operation was reported by ISAF and the Afghan authorities, alleging he was a “Germany-based Moroccan al Qaeda foreign fighter facilitator.” A German magazine said he was 30 years old at the time of his detention and had been living in Germany until 2010 when his temporary right of residency had run out (he did not possess a German passport). After that, he left the country and was arrested, but later released, in Turkey on his way to Pakistan, from where he entered Afghanistan. State of the Taliban quotes him talking about choosing whether to fight the ‘jihad’ in Afghanistan or Chechnya.
2 Irek Hamidullan (as named by US officials in The Washington Post) or Irek Khamidullin (according to Russian media), Russian. US officials speaking to the Post said he is in his mid- to late 50s and “a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s who deserted and ended up fighting US forces after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.” A Russian newspaper described him as an ethnic Tatar Muslim, a tank specialist who completed his active duty inside the Soviet Union, not Afghanistan. After a failed attempt at jihad in Chechnya in 1999 (pro-Russian Chechens executed most of his comrades), he was detained in 2004 by Pakistani forces while trying to cross into Afghanistan (the first of two failed attempts to do so, see here) and deported back to Russia. US officials, quoted by the Post, said he was wounded during an assault on an Afghan border post in 2009 and later captured. He is suspected of involvement in several attacks in which American troops were wounded or killed and is reportedly being considered for a military trial. A released detainee, Fazal Kareem, told The Guardian in July 2014 that Hamidullan was on hunger strike.
3 Abu Ikhlas al-Masri, Egyptian. According to State of the Taliban, “Al Qaida operations commander, in Kunar province”. According to The Long War Journal, he was named “al Qaeda’s operations chief for Kunar province in early 2008.”. It reported his capture in December 2012, as did the Wall Street Journal.
4 Redha al-Najar, Tunisian, ISN 1466. According to the Open Society Foundations report on CIA rendition, he was detained in Karachi, in May 2002, and held in CIA custody and transferred between different black sites before being transferred to US military custody in Bagram. First communications with his family were in 2003 via the ICRC, approximately 18 months after his arrest. The Open Society Foundations, in its 2012 study of the CIA programme of rendition and torture, writes that the Al Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al-Libi (now deceased), who escaped from Bagram in 2005, alleged that Najar had been held in the held in “the Dark Prison, Panjshir prison, “Rissat” prison, and “Rissat 2” prison.
“Rissat” sounds like a mangling of riasat, or ‘department’ in Dari, a term used for the departments of Afghan intelligence, the NDS. They are usually numbered, as in “Riasat 2”. The Dark Prison, Tor Jail in Pashto, has been repeatedly described by former inmates and is still in use as what AAN has been told by military sources is now a jointly run NDS/US military facility for screening detainees. It is on Bagram air base. The Panjshir prison may be the one used by Ahmad Shah Massud for his most high value detainees before 2001.
5 A Jordanian mentioned by a US military spokesman to The Washington Post
6 A Tunisian The same article mentions a “pair of Tunisians” being held (ie another man apart from Redha al-Najar).
Plus seven others One could be Abdul Jabbar, who was described in The State of the Taliban as “IMU [Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan] Deputy Commander Kunduz Province.” He could be Uzbek from Uzbekistan or from Afghanistan or even a Pakistani. He could also conceivably be the Kazakh mentioned below.
There will also be Pakistanis among those currently held. On 20 September, fourteen Pakistani nationals were repatriated from Bagram. According to Pakistani press reports (read here and here), some may have come originally from Guantanamo, via Bagram. Islamabad did not release their names (as it had done after previous transfers). The lawyers of Amanatullah Ali, who was rendered from Iraq in 2005, and Abdul Halim Saifullah, who reportedly disappeared from Karachi in the same year, after dropping his father off at a clinic to run some errands (more detail below), have confirmed that they are among those released. The Pakistan Justice Project told AAN, “Unofficially, mostly through media sources, we think that Saiful Rahman, Saifullah, Jaber Zaher, Muhammad Amin and Fazal Karim are also back.” The Pakistani media, quoting security sources, gives many more names (in total, 19). (3)
The following Pakistanis were known to be in Bagram before 20 September and could be among the 12 unnamed recent releases or they could still be in detention:
1 Hafizullah, Pakistani According to the leaked ISAF report, The State of the Taliban, he is: “HUJI [Harakat ul-Jihad ul-Islami], 313 Brigade Operative, Bajaur Agency, PK and Kunar Province, Af.” It quotes him referring to himself as Punjabi. Hafizullah’s name also appears on the Pakistan government’s 5 August 2014 list of its detained nationals.
Harakat ul-Jihad ul-Islami is a Pakistani Deobandi militant group which emerged out of support to the Afghan mujahedin in the 1980s. After the Soviet withdrawal, it focused mainly on Kashmir, but has also fought in the post-2001 insurgency in Afghanistan. It has been accused of various terrorist acts and has a long association with al-Qaida. The 313 Brigade was established by the late Ilyas Kashmiri.
2 Amal Khan, Pakistani, ISN 1474 According to his lawyers, he is a 32 years old man from Mansehra who travelled to Afghanistan to find work in July 2002 and vanished shortly after. In early 2003, his family learned he was in Bagram.
3 Mohammad Eqbal, Pakistani According to the Justice Project Pakistan (by email to AAN), he is 31 years old and a khatib – someone who gives Friday sermons. It says that, on 15 May 2012, he went with some Afghan friends to visit “the birthplace of a religious person” and was detained soon after crossing the border (his Afghan counterparts were released).
4 Fazal Karim, Pakistani, ISN 1897 According to his lawyers, his family is originally from Swat, but is long settled in Karachi and he is a businessman. They say he was abducted while on a business trip to Peshawar in 2003. His family found out he was in Bagram in 2005 through the ICRC. They said he has told his family that at his interrogation, “he was physically abused and kept in solitary confinement.” Lawyers say the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul disclosed he had been cleared for release at least as far back as February 2011.
5 Wahidullah “Al Qaida-Affiliated TTP operative, Bajaur agency and Kunar” (State of the Taliban); ISAF says he is a member of the Pakistani Taliban, his name is not on the Pakistan government’s list of its nationals.
In August, the Pakistani government informed the National Assembly of the names of all the Pakistanis the US Embassy in Islamabad said were then being held at Bagram.
(4) Included in that list were these men about whom there is no further information:
6 Jaber Zaher
7 Mohammad Amin
10 Nur Islam
11 Aziz Arafat
12 Mohammad Akram
13 Faitullah (sic)
15 Saiful Rahman
Annex 2: Recent Releases
A) 14 Pakistanis 20 September 2014, names not confirmed, except( by their lawyers) for:
1 Amanatullah Ali, Pakistani, ISN 1432 Repatriated 20 September 2014 according to his lawyers. (In the Pakistan government’s list, he is also called Ahmad Dilshad and appears under this name (but with the same ISN number) in the list of Bagram detainees released by the US military in 2009.)
Ali’s Pakistani lawyers (also see here) said he was in Iraq to visit the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala (as a rice exporter, he regularly made business trips to Iran) when he was detained by UK forces in Iraq in February 2004 and handed over, with compatriot, Yunis Rahmatullah, to UK forces in February 2004. They subsequently rendered him to Bagram. Curiously, since he is Shia, he was accused of being a member of the Sunni-sectarian Pakistani group Lashkar-e Tayba and indeed this was how his detention was reported in the Indian press and re-reported elsewhere.
This transfer, without getting or seeking the UK’s agreement, broke a 2003 Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries. British lawyers took the men’s cases to court and, in October 2012, the UK Supreme Court held their transfer and subsequent detention, long after hostilities in Iraq had ended, to be a prima facie violation of international law, in this case the 4th Geneva Convention (see a summary of the judgement). The lawyers have now asked for a judicial review to look into the failure of the UK government to investigate the circumstances of the two men’s capture, their transfer to US custody and rendition. They have also started a civil claim for damages.
Amanatullah Ali’s brother said that, in November 2011, the Bagram Detainee Review Board had telephoned him to say he had been cleared for release.
2 Abdul Haleem Saifullah, Pakistani, ISN 2505 (named as Abdul Alim in the 2009 US list of detainees. Repatriated 20 September 2014 according to the Justice Project Pakistan. His lawyers say he was born in 1985 and worked as a labourer in Karachi. They said he dropped his father, Abdul Halim, who had been suffering from paralysis, off at a clinic in Karachi in 2005, “saying he would run a few errands and return soon, but was never seen again.” News came from the ICRC in 2006 that he was in an “unidentified detention facility” in Afghanistan and then, in 2007, that he was in Bagram.
Plus 12 other un-named Pakistanis
B) Miscellaneous nationalities, information from a US military spokesman who gave no other details:
15 Detainee to Kuwait
16 Detainee to France
17 Detainee to Kazakhstan The Washington Post reported he was Farabi Ryskulov and had been repatriated on 4 August 2014.
C) Two Yemenis, 26 August 2014
18 Muhammad Abdallah al Bakri, Yemeni, ISN 1464 Detained in Bangkok, December 2002, by US or Thai intelligence. “According to court papers,” writes The Open Society Foundations, “he was held in secret CIA prisons for about six months before being transferred to Bagram Air Base, and coercively interrogated and tortured in those locations; in CIA detention, he was subjected to serious abuse, resulting in injuries to his knees and back. According to al-Libi, al Bakri was held in the ‘Dark Prison’, ‘Rissat’ prison and a prison in the Panjshir Valley before being transferred to Bagram. It writes that, since 2010, he has been cleared three times for release by US military detainee release boards.
19 Fadi al Maqaleh, Yemeni, ISN 1815 The Open Society Foundations writes that he was seized in 2004 and held in CIA custody before being transferred to Bagram. It quotes al-Libi as alleging he was held in Abu Ghraib in Iraq for a time. In March 2009, his habeas corpus petition was granted by US District Court Judge John D Bates. The ruling was overturned by the Court of Appeals (the DC Circuit Court) in May 2010.
D) Nine Pakistanis (names and places given by the Ministry of Interior, via the Justice Project Pakistan) 21 August 2014
20 Shoaib Khan/Shoaib Ahmed, ISN 3764 His lawyers say he was born in 1975 and grew up in Abbottabad and is a graduate and married with three children. They say that, in early 2008, he was “routinely travelling for work and was not heard from for several months.” Towards the end of 2008, his family received information from the ICRC that he was detained in Bagram.
21 Mohammad Eqbal, Karachi
22 Abdullah (Abdul Nabi) Pangoure District, Balochistan
23 Imranul Hassan, Lahore, Punjab
24 Sardar Mohammad, Qalai Haroot, Balochistan
25 Mumtaz Khan/Imtiaz Khan, Tasir Barawali District, KPK
26 Latifullah, Lakki Marwat, KPK
27 Zabet (FATA). No mention of a man by this name on the Pakistani government’s 5 August list.
28 Imran (FATA) According to the Justice Project Pakistan, his full name is Imran son of Rasul Mohammad (ISN # 5667). He appears in the government’s 5 August list of detainees, as Imran Rassoul.
E) Ten Pakistanis 13 May 2014
29 Nasir Mohmand Awal Noor, ISN 2096 His lawyers say he was born in 1990 and was orphaned at a young age; when 16 years old and was working as a goatherd in the summer 2006, in Paktika Margha, along the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, when he disappeared. That winter, a fellow goat-herder contacted his family, saying he had been lost after an American aerial bombardment. The family assumed he had died, but, in 2008 learned he was detained in Bagram. A former detainee said he had been detained after being wounded in a US bombing;
30 Iftikhar Ahmed, ISN 20235 According to his lawyers, he is 23 year old, mentally-ill and from Pakpattan, who from 2009, had been making trips to the area around Quetta to work as a labourer on water boring projects. He made his last trip in January 2010 and when the project was finished in February, called his family to tell them he would be returning the next day. He never came home and his mobile number was constantly switched off. In June 2010, they heard from the ICRC that he was in Bagram. The lawyers said he had “managed to convey to his family that he was picked up by the American forces in the border area of Chamman and taken to Bagram.”
31 Paizoo Khan, ISN 20621 The Justice Project Pakistan said he is an old man and was a taxi driver; he had been driving a family to Kilipoti Waliyatzabul on 12 August 2010 when NATO forces raided the area and he was captured. His lawyers say he was first sent to Kandahar jail and then taken to Bagram. His family thought he had died, until November 2010 when they were contacted by ICRC who said he was in Bagram.
32 Yunus Rahmatullah (Sallah Muhammad), ISN 1433 According to his lawyers, he is a 32 year old man from Baluchistan, who, in 2004 was working in real estate in Iraq, when he was captured by British soldiers. The British handed him over to American troops, and soon after he was rendered from Iraq to Bagram. Won a case in the UK Supreme court that his transfer was illegal (see main text).
33 Bismillah Khan According to information given to AAN by Justice Project Pakistan, he is 84 years old and was living with his family in South Waziristan in an area called Dakhona Sararogha when he disappeared in the winter of 2005. They said it was five to six years before his family learned (via the family of another detainee) that he was, in fact, detained in Bagram.
34 Abdul Sattar “A 26-year-old preacher,” said The Guardian, “who spent about two and a half years locked in Bagram before his release in May” (ie his detention would have been in late 2011). Interviewed by the paper after his release from Bagram, he said he had been detained in Paktika on suspicion of carrying weapons in his car, something he “strongly denied”. He said he was coerced into making a false confession and, like many of the detainees, had been on hunger strike.
There is no other information about the four other detainees released:
35 Farman Shah
36 Shah Khalid
37 Wajid Rehman
F) Six Pakistanis, 16 November 2013
39 Hamidullah Khan, ISN 3718 According to his lawyers, in July 2008 when he was 14 years old, he travelled from Karachi to his father’s village in Waziristan to salvage the family’s possessions from their home during a military operation. His friend, Khairullah, who travelled with him by bus from Karachi to Dera Ismail Khan, parted with him and he told him to wait for him to return from Waziristan within the next two days so they could travel back to Karachi together. Khairullah never saw Hamidullah again.
40 Abdul Qadir Imran/Iman Khan, ISN 2422 According to his lawyers, he was a labourer and bus conductor (studied up until grade eight in his village school). In 2005, he travelled with a friend, the next detainee, Mohammed Riaz, to Afghanistan on holiday. Once they reached Jalalabad, the taxi in which they were traveling was stopped and both men were arrested by Afghan soldiers and transferred to US custody. The two Afghan men who were traveling with them were not arrested.
41 Mohammed Riaz ISN 2421 His lawyers said he is a 29 year old from Barra, Khyber Agency, detained while travelling in Afghanistan in 2005, with the previous detainee.
42 Palak Jan The Justice Project Pakistan told AAN he was a carpenter, living near Peshawar and was offered work in Jalalabad with decent wages which he accepted. While there, the Afghan army raided the house he was staying in and arrested him. He spent eight years in Bagram and, they say, “kept in a small cell for 15 days for interrogation and…tortured very badly.”
Of the other Pakistanis released, there is no information.
43 Abdul Karim
44 Sabeel Suleiman
G) Other miscellaneous, un-named
45, 46 Two un-named Saudi men, according to US military sources, quoted by The Washington Post in December 2013, they were both in their twenties, had been captured in 2008 and repatriated in November 2013.
47 An un-named Palestinian was also released to an unspecified Middle Eastern country, according to the same newspaper report.
(The Post also said two other men thought to be Pakistani had been reclassified as Afghan and handed over to the Afghan authorities (the last Afghans in US detention at Bagram were handed over on 25 March 2013.)
(1) A year ago, General Faruq Barakzai, head of the Afghan detention facility at Bagram told AAN, “Our friends have agreed to hand over those foreign detainees to us,” but said the government did not want to take them. He pointed to the legal problems with a transfer, the “clear right” – and here Barakzai appeared to rule out continuing internment – for the foreign detainees to have their fate decided by a court and according to Afghan law. A court might be able to judge that someone had come to Afghanistan illegally, he said, but how could it decide the fate of someone rendered to Afghanistan? There would also be diplomatic problems: the government, he said, does not want to “face down other countries over their detainees.”
(2) A leaked ISAF report on Taleban attitudes, The State of the Taliban, included a little biographical detail of some detainees. It can be read on The New York Times website although (complying with the military’s request?) the paper blacked out the identities of the detainees. AAN obtained a non-redacted copy at the time and also wrote about the leaked report itself.
Despite the secrecy obscuring the identities at those held at Bagram, information has emerged, albeit in fragmented form, from families, legal proceedings, research by human rights activists, including the Open Societies Foundations’ masterly 2012 study ‘Globalizing Torture’, on the CIA’s post-2001 global rendition programme. There are also newspaper reports, including the work of the investigative reporter, Andy Worthington, who annotated the US military’s 2009 list of detainees.
(3) The Pakistani media, quoting “security sources” gave a variety of names which altogether add up to 19. Some were not on the August list of detainees given to the Pakistani parliament. Dawn (http://www.dawn.com/news/1133326) published 13 names and The Nation 14 names of those released on 20 September. The names which appear in both lists are in bold.
1 Mohammad Suleman (Muzaffargarh),
2 Amanatullah (Jaranwala)
3 Hafeezullah (Sibi)
4 Saeed Mohammad (Nowshera) Shabqadar
5 Mohammad Amin (Nowshera)
6 Saifur Rehman (Nowshera)
7 Amal Khan
8 Abdul Haleem (Mardan)
9 Fazal Karim/ Shah Fazal Karim (Karachi)
10 Saifullah (Kohat)
11 Omer Ikram (Mohmand Agency)
12 Fidaullah (Lakki Marwat) and
13 Mohammad Zahir (Quetta)
14 Ahmed Khan a resident of Torkham
15 Maza Allah (Lakki Marwat)
16 Abdullah (Kohat)
17 Muhammad Akram (Mohmand Agency)
19 Mustafa Almandi.
(4) The advisor to the Prime Minister on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, informed the Pakistani parliament that, according to the US Embassy, the following Pakistani 24 nationals were detained at Bagram: Fazel Khan/Fazel Karim, Abdul Halim Saifullah Mohammad Eqbal, Saiful Rahman, Jaber Zaher, Abdullah (Abdul Nabi), Imranul Hassan, Sardar Mohammad, Imran Rassoul, Anal [sic, should be Amal] Khan, Faitullah, Mumtaz Khan/Imtiaz Khan, Mohammad Eqbal, Mohammad Amin, Amanatullah/Ahmad Dilshad, Shoaib Khan, Mohammad, Latifullah, Hafizullah, Abdullah, Nur Islam, Aziz Arafat, Mohammad Akram and Saifullah.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020