Monday, February 23, 2009

OBAMA TO EXPAND GITMO 2 IN AFGHANISTAN

Independent, UK - Less than a month after signing an executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, President Barack Obama has quietly agreed to keep denying the right to trial to hundreds more terror suspects held at a makeshift camp in Afghanistan that human rights lawyers have dubbed "Obama's Guantanamo".

In a single-sentence answer filed with a Washington court, the administration dashed hopes that it would immediately rip up Bush-era policies that have kept more than 600 prisoners in legal limbo and in rudimentary conditions at the Bagram air base, north of Kabul.

Now, human rights groups say they are becoming increasingly concerned that the use of extra-judicial methods in Afghanistan could be extended rather than curtailed under the new US administration. The air base is about to undergo a $60m expansion that will double its size, meaning it can house five times as many prisoners as remain at Guantanamo.

Apart from staff at the International Red Cross, human rights groups and journalists have been barred from Bagram, where former prisoners say they were tortured by being shackled to the ceiling of isolation cells and deprived of sleep. . .

While the majority of the estimated 600 prisoners are believed to be Afghan, an unknown number - perhaps several dozen - have been picked up from other countries.

One of the detainees who passed through the Afghan prison was Binyam Mohamed, the British resident who is expected to return to the UK this week after his release from Guantanamo Bay. Mr Mohamed's lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, head of a legal charity called Reprieve, called President Obama's strategy "the Bagram bait and switch", where the administration was trumpeting the closure of a camp housing 242 prisoners, while scaling up the Bagram base to house 1,100 more.

"Guantanamo Bay was a diversionary tactic in the 'War on Terror'," said the lawyer. "Totting up the prisoners around the world - held by the US in Iraq, Afghanistan, Djibouti, the prison ships and Diego Garcia, or held by US proxies in Jordan, Egypt and Morocco - the numbers dwarf Guantanamo. There are still perhaps as many as 18,000 people in legal black holes."