Page last updated at 03:55 GMT, Saturday, 21 February 2009

'No US rights' for Bagram inmates

Bagram air base, file pic
Some 600 so-called enemy combatants are said to be held at Bagram Air Base

Detainees being held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan cannot use US courts to challenge their detention, the US says.

The justice department ruled that some 600 so-called enemy combatants at Bagram have no constitutional rights.

Most have been arrested in Afghanistan on suspicion of waging a terrorist war against the US.

The move has disappointed human rights lawyers who had hoped the Obama administration would take a different line to that of George W Bush.

Prof Barbara Olshansky, the lead counsel in a legal challenge on behalf of four Bagram detainees, told the BBC the justice department's decision not to reform the rules was both surprising and "enormously disappointing".

The BBC's Kevin Connolly in Washington says the move has angered human rights lawyers, with one saying the new White House was endorsing the view of the old one, that prisons could be created and run outside the law.

It is certainly evidence that having set the tone for his administration by announcing plans to close Guantanamo Bay, Mr Obama intends to adopt a much more cautious approach to the problem of detainees held elsewhere by the US military, our correspondent says.

'Homicides admitted'

Last year, the US Supreme Court gave suspects held at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the right to challenge their detention.

Following that ruling, petitions were filed at a Washington district court on behalf of four detainees at Bagram.

The judge then gave the new administration an opportunity to refine the rules on appeals.

In a two-sentence filing, justice department lawyers said the new administration had decided not to change the government's position.

"Having considered the matter, the government adheres to its previously articulated position," said acting assistant Attorney General Michael Hertz in papers filed at the court.

The US justice department argues that Bagram differs from Guantanamo Bay because it is in an overseas war zone and prisoners there are being held as part of ongoing military action.

Prof Olshansky said the conditions at the Bagram facility, which is near the Afghan capital, Kabul, were worse than those at Guantanamo Bay, adding that there was a lack of due process available to detainees.

"The situation in Bagram is so far from anything like meeting the laws of war or the human rights treaties that we're bound to," she told the BBC.

"There are no military hearings where the detainees can present evidence," she added. "Torture has led to homicides there that have been admitted by the US."

"It's quite a severe situation, and yet the US is planning a $60m new prison to hold 1,100 more people there."

The US military considers Bagram detainees unlawful combatants who can be detained for as long as they are deemed a threat to Afghan national security.

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