Red Cross: Change needed at US prison
By FISNIK ABRASHI
Associated Press / April 14, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan – The U.S. military should allow outside evidence to be presented at hearings at the U.S. military prison at Bagram to determine whether a detainee may be freed, the top international Red Cross official said Monday.
Jakob Kellenberger, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said that many detainees held by the U.S. military in Afghanistan complain that they do not know why they are being held.
“They do not know what the future brings, how long will they be there and under which conditions will they be released,” Kellenberger said after a weeklong visit to the country.
Kellenberger praised the establishment by U.S. officials of the “enemy combatant review board” in Afghanistan that every six months examines whether a detainee can be released. But he urged the military to allow outside evidence in the process. Such detainee hearings are not open to the public.
“I do consider the establishment of this body as progress but I think it was high time,” Kellenberger said. “This body should also get the evidence from the persons outside, also evidence which can speak in favor of those who are detained … Evidence of people who know them, so that this evidence is brought into the process.”
U.S. military officials declined to make an immediate comment.
The U.S. military does not make public the list of detainees nor the suspected offenses they are held on. Some of the detainees are fighters who were held after clashes or raids.
Unlike the U.S. prison at the base in Guantanamo, Cuba, the military does not allow journalists to visit the Bagram detention facility.
Kellenberger praised U.S. authorities for acting on some of the Red Cross recommendations, such as enabling video-conferencing between families and some of the 600-plus detainees held at the sprawling U.S. military base.
The ICRC and the U.S. military set up a video conferencing system this year that allows the Bagram prisoners to speak with and see family members, the only outside contact the prisoners are allowed to have.
Human rights groups accuse the U.S. military of holding prisoners without charge at facilities like Bagram, in some cases for more than five years.
Kellenberger wrapped up a weeklong visit to Afghanistan on Monday during which he met with top U.S. military commanders and President Hamid Karzai.