Is The Bagram Air Base The New Guantanamo? Human rights groups are demanding that the Obama administration turn over information on detainees held by the U.S. at the air base in Afghanistan. It's an echo of similar calls on the Bush administration to release information about detainees at Guantanamo.
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Is The Bagram Air Base The New Guantanamo?

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Is The Bagram Air Base The New Guantanamo?

Is The Bagram Air Base The New Guantanamo?

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand in California.


And I'm Melissa Block in Washington.

First this hour, a legal battle over terrorism detainees. They're not at Guantanamo, but at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. There are more than 600 detainees held there. Today, the ACLU asked the Obama administration to release information about them.

NPR's Ari Shapiro reports on whether Bagram is the new Guantanamo.

ARI SHAPIRO: When the Bush administration first sent detainees to Guantanamo Bay, human rights groups sued to find out who the prisoners were. Now, seven years later, the ACLU is demanding the same information from the Obama administration about Bagram detainees. Melissa Goodman is the attorney on the case.

Ms. MELISSA GOODMAN (Attorney): Just basic information about who they're detaining, how long they've been there, where they were actually captured, and what their nationalities are.

SHAPIRO: Human rights groups and the media have felled many trees litigating and writing about Guantanamo Bay. The Supreme Court has decided three Guantanamo cases. It has not heard one about Bagram. Benjamin Wittes is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Mr. BENJAMIN WITTES (Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution): Only about 800 people have passed through Guantanamo. The United States military, since the beginning of the war on terror, has held, you know, literally tens and tens of thousands of people around the world. So the focus on Guantanamo as the locus of the problem of detention was always quite delusional.

SHAPIRO: Now, everyone is looking at the problem more broadly. The Obama administration has a task force working on U.S. detention policy. Human rights lawyers are arguing in court that Bagram detainees should have the same rights as the men at Guantanamo. Tina Foster is executive director of the International Justice Network. We reached her in Yemen, where she's meeting with some former Bagram detainees.

Ms. TINA FOSTER (Executive Director, International Justice Network): The Obama administration has adopted the Bush administration's position that individuals that are captured by the United States anywhere in the world can be taken into custody and held indefinitely without charge, so long as they're not brought to Guantanamo.

SHAPIRO: In April, Foster won a case against the Obama administration. Judge John Bates said three non-Afghans being held at Bagram have a right to access American courts. He said a fourth detainee, who is from Afghanistan, cannot. Government lawyers are appealing that ruling. They argue that Bagram is a typical overseas military prison in the center of a war zone, where American courts have never had jurisdiction. This points to a major difference between Bagram and Guantanamo.

Everyone at Guantanamo was a suspected terrorist picked up some place far away. That's true of some Bagram detainees, but others are warriors — Afghans who were caught fighting American troops on the battlefield. It's pretty widely accepted that those people can stay locked up in Afghanistan without a trial until the end of a war. Matthew Waxman of Columbia Law School handled detainee affairs for the Defense Department under President Bush.

Professor MATTHEW WAXMAN (Columbia Law School): I could see the court saying if somebody was captured in Afghanistan, which has the feel of a traditional battlefield, those types of detainees are beyond the scope of judicial review. But if somebody is captured elsewhere and then brought into a facility in Afghanistan, that might present something closer to what we have at Guantanamo.

SHAPIRO: This raises a question that has been the subject of debate since shortly after 9/11.

Professor BOBBY CHESNEY (Law, University of Texas): This is about, what's the geographic scope of the armed conflict?

SHAPIRO: University of Texas law professor Bobby Chesney worked on the Obama administration's detention policy task force.

Prof. CHESNEY: The question is: Are we at war with al-Qaida and its associated forces wherever they may be found, or are we just at war with them in the Afghanistan and perhaps Pakistan theater?

SHAPIRO: This question is about more than Bagram. It's about foreign detainees that the U.S. is holding anywhere in the world. And it's a question the Obama administration is still trying to answer.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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