Non-Afghan Detainees May Challenge Detention in U.S.


Some foreign detainees held at Bagram Airfield, a U.S. air base in Afghanistan, may contest their detention in U.S. Courts, a federal judge recently ruled.

Four prisoners, who had each been held at Bagram for over six years, constitute the basis of the case. Judge John Bates ruled last week that three of them—a Yemeni who was captured in Thailand, a Yemeni who claimed to have been captured in Pakistan, and a Tunisian who was captured in Pakistan—may challenge their detentions in the U.S. justice system. A fourth prisoner, however, was denied this right, since he is an Afghan citizen. Bates’s ruling stated that allowing hearings for Afghan citizens within the United States courts could cause undue problems with Afghanistan. Once released from detention, the Afghan detainees would have to be turned over to their home country.

Other countries’ citizens, however, may not be detained in a U.S. prison for years on end without the right to challenge their imprisonment. Judge Bates, who was Bush-era appointee, compared the detainees in this case to those from Guantanamo Bay, whose right to challenge their detentions was upheld by the Supreme Court last year. If upheld, this ruling would allow non-Afghan citizens, who were captured outside of Afghanistan, the right to hearings in the U.S. courts.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations had argued that Bagram was substantially different from Guantanamo, and that hearings in the Bagram prisoners’ cases would be disruptive to the U.S. courts. Yet Judge Bates ruled that Bagram is not subject to the laws of any other country, but falls within the jurisdiction of the United States. Hearings for these prisoners, he added, could be held via teleconference, in the same way that Guantanamo prisoners’ hearings are conducted.

A law professor at the University of Texas who specializes in national security law called the ruling “terribly important.” Bobby Chesney continued, “It will extend some form of federal judicial oversight to a subset of the detainees in Afghanistan, those that are non-Afghans, who were captured outside of Afghanistan but who are, nonetheless, brought by the United States to be held in Afghanistan.”

There are 600 prisoners currently being held at Bagram Airfield, but it is not known how many additional foreign citizens may be covered under this decision. That information has been classified by both Bush and Obama administrations.


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