Sunday, September 13, 2009

U.S. Creates Review System for Detainees at Bagram

It may not be ideal, but it seems to be a significant step forward. The new process for reviewing the bases of prisoners' detention at Bagram military base in Afghanistan will involve what are being called "Detainee Review Boards." There is an existing system at Bagram that allegedly allows a prisoner to challenge his detention but does not allow for the presentation of evidence or for the prisoner to review the evidence against him. The new system will place a U.S. military official who is not a lawyer with a prisoner. That official will be in charge of representing that prisoner's interests and will be able to call witnesses and present "reasonably available" evidence. Something missing from the Washington Post article is what the standard for continued detention or release will be, but that may not be determined yet. The process will be used to determine which detainees will be released, turned over to Afghan authorities, or held in U.S. custody longer. Those held in U.S. custody will have the basis for their detention reviewed at six month intervals. This six month interval is similar to the system of administrative detention used in Israel.

This is a big step forward. Even human rights groups say this is a significant improvement to the current system. Those groups also say that it is not enough because the detainees still don't have access to legal counsel. I agree that access to legal counsel is a hallmark of fairness, but we aren't dealing with a civilian situation here. When it comes to Gitmo it is much easier to allow for legal counsel because the detainees are held at a military base that isn't in an active theater of war. Bagram is right in the middle of a war torn country where the military is struggling to assert its control. Allowing for legal counsel and traditional legal processes is simply impractical. A full fledged review system similar to the one that exists for Gitmo would use up a great deal of resources, both administrative and security related, in Bagram. The military needs to focus its resources on gaining control of Afghanistan. I like this proposed system. It is not the most protective of detainee rights at Bagram, but I believe it is the most we can do in a practical sense.

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