Bagram prisoners have no rights?

More reasons to worry: Obama backs Bush policy on Afghanistan detainees. Plus: Read Mark Benjamin on Tony Taguba.

Published February 21, 2009 12:05PM (EST)

I said a few days ago that I would hold off on criticizing Obama for things he might do, after Charlie Savage's disturbing piece on signs the new president might ultimately back Bush-Cheney terror policies like extraordinary rendition and indefinite detention of terror suspects. Late Friday came news of something Obama actually has done, and it's appalling: He's backed the Bush administration claim that terror suspects held at Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan have no constitutional rights, according to the Associated Press.

You might remember Bagram from Alex Gibney's devastating "Taxi to the Dark Side," which detailed the December 2002 torture and death -- I would say murder -- of a 22-year-old cab driver named Dilawar by U.S. soldiers there. Or maybe you remember Tim Golden's riveting New York Times story in 2005, detailing the death of Dilawar and another detainee at Bagram.

After the Supreme Court ruled that Guantánamo detainees had the right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts, four Bagram prisoners tried to challenge their detention in U.S. District Court in Washington. The prisoners say the American military had detained and interrogated them without any charges and without letting them contact attorneys. According to AP, the suit was filed by relatives on their behalf; that was their only access to the legal system. The Bush administration defended against the suit by claiming all Bagram detainees have been deemed "enemy combatants" who had no right to U.S. courts. Today lawyers for the Obama administration decided to embrace the Bush defense.

"They've now embraced the Bush policy that you can create prisons outside the law," the ACLU's Jonathan Hafetz told AP. "The hope we all had in President Obama to lead us on a different path has not turned out as we'd hoped," said Tina Monshipour Foster, a human rights attorney who represents one of the Bagram detainees. "We all expected better."

In related news: Please read Mark Benjamin's exclusive interview with retired Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, the man who investigated Abu Ghraib and was punished by Donald Rumsfeld for his honesty. Taguba is one of the leading voices asking Obama to establish a commission to examine Bush-era torture policies. I hope Obama listens, but I would say this decision on Bagram at least partly implicates Obama in those same policies.


By Joan Walsh

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