Obama sides with Bush
on Bagram detainees



President decides to refuse Bagram
detainees habeas corpus rights


Agence France Presse

February 21, 2009



WASHINGTON (AFP) President Barack Obama's administration has sided with predecessor George W. Bush on the rights of detainees at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, saying they cannot challenge their detention in US courts.


In a two-sentence court filing Friday, the US Justice Department said "the government adheres to its previously articulated position" of denying habeas corpus rights to Bagram detainees, backing a similar decision by the Bush administration.


Four inmates at the Bagram prison, where the United States has approximately 600 detainees, were given a hearing by US District Court in Washington last month, seeking the same rights accorded to prisoners at the US naval facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


The two Yemenis, an Afghan and a Tunisian based their request on the Supreme Court's June ruling that granted Guantanamo detainees the right to know the charges against them and on what evidence they are being held.


That ruling led to a flood of appeals in Washington courts from Guantanamo inmates challenging their detentions.


Bush administration lawyers had argued that Bagram could not be compared to Guantanamo because the first was located "on the battlefield," while the latter was in Cuba, and that Bagram detainees would pose a security threat if they were released.


US District Court judge John Bates had given the new administration a February 20 deadline to indicate whether it intended to "refine" the positions of the Bush administration on the Bagram detainee cases and "to provide input regarding the definition of 'enemy combatant.'"


Attorneys representing the detainees reacted with dismay.


"The decision by the Obama administration to adhere to a position that has contributed to making our country a pariah around the world for its flagrant disregard of people's human rights is deeply disappointing," Barbara Olshansky, lead counsel for three of four detainees, told AFP.


"We are trying to remain hopeful that the message being conveyed is that the new administration is still working on its position regarding the applicability of the laws of war, the Geneva Conventions and international human rights treaties that apply to everyone in detention there."


In one of his first major decisions in office, Obama ordered that the Guantanamo prison camp, where approximately 245 detainees are currently held, be closed within one year. He also ordered a review of overall detainee policy.


But he had not indicated what he plans to do about the Bagram detainees or whether he would go forward with a planned 60-million-dollar expansion of the prison.


Earlier this month, the Obama administration backed another Bush anti-terror policy when it urged a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit accusing Boeing Company of helping fly suspects to secret CIA detention centers overseas. The Justice Department said the case should be thrown out to protect state secrets.


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