Prisoner of the U.S. at Bagram
Amin al-Bakri is pictured above (left) prior to his abduction by U.S. agents and (right) after 6 years of imprisonment in U.S. custody—first at secret C.I.A. detention sites known for the use of torture in interrogations, and then at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where physical and mental torture have been commonly documented. Since 2002 Amin has been confined virtually incommunicado, without access to counsel and with little contact with his family, except through heavily censored letters, and more recently, through rare, monitored phone calls. In a cry for help, Amin’s father, Mohammed al-Bakri, wrote to President Obama, “These pictures show the heavy toll that Amin’s imprisonment has had on him.” No pictures of Amin have been made available subsequent to the one taken above (right) in 2008.
Kidnapped, Tortured and Indefinitely Imprisoned Without Charge
In 2002, Amin al-Bakri, a gem salesman with investments in shrimp farming, was on a five-day business trip to Thailand. After checking out of his hotel, Amin was headed to the airport to fly back to Yemen, eager to celebrate his 40th birthday with his wife and children, when unknown U.S. agents seized him. His wife and children had no idea what had happened to him until a Yemeni newspaper reported that he had been kidnapped by unknown American agents. All of the efforts by the al-Bakri family to find Amin were unsuccessful. They only learned that he was still alive when they received a postcard in his handwriting from the U.S. military prison in Bagram, Afghanistan, forwarded by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). In the postcard Amin asked family members to look after his two sons and young daughter.
During the month that U.S. agents seized Amin, two prisoners at Bagram were tortured to death by U.S. interrogators, and at least 84 others died as a result of abusive treatment in U.S. custody at various detention sites worldwide. Documented interrogation methods inflicted on prisoners at C.I.A. “black sites” and at Bagram have included beatings; electric shocks; prolonged suspension from the ceiling; stress positions; solitary confinement in “dog boxes”; sexual abuse and humiliation; starvation; freezing temperatures; water-boarding; simulated drowning; continual blaring of deafening music; intentional subjection to screams from neighboring prison cells; sleep deprivation; sensory deprivation; and mock executions.
Because Amin has been held virtually incommunicado in Afghanistan without access to his attorneys, we cannot know for certain where he was detained between his abduction in 2002 and his eventual imprisonment at Bagram. We do know, however, that Amin was subjected to serious abuse resulting in injuries to his knees and back, and that he has since had unsuccessful surgery on one of his knees. Beyond knowledge of these disclosed injuries, his family can only speculate about what he has endured and is still enduring.
Despite these horrific circumstances, Amin is reported to be a model prisoner. Most notably, he acts as an interpreter between U.S. military authorities and other prisoners, utilizing his knowledge of English, French, Arabic, Farsi, and Urdu—and has defused and mediated disputes between these groups.
A Family’s Sorrow
Amin’s disappearance and subsequent imprisonment have caused devastating pain for his entire family throughout the past 8 years. As Amin’s father, Muhammed al-Bakri, has said, “My heart aches when I consider the terrible and degrading treatment he has been forced to endure.” Amin’s father worries for Amin’s children, explaining, “They’ve been robbed of the joy of their childhood. They know they’ve lost something.” And he fears for Amin’s wife, who lives “as though half her soul is missing.” The resulting prolonged stress has caused health problems for both of Amin’s parents, because they have not seen their son for the past eight years and do not know if they ever will again. In their efforts to win Amin’s release, the family has been grateful for the support of HOOD, a leading human rights organization in Yemen.
The Legal Struggle
For the past eight years no charges have been brought against Amin. Yet the U.S. government claims it may continue to hold him indefinitely as part of its war against various groups, a war to which Amin has no connection. The U.S. has offered no evidence to justify Amin’s imprisonment and has concealed all information regarding his initial seizure. The military’s periodic reviews are the only procedure afforded to Amin. These reviews rely on secret evidence and afford prisoners no meaningful opportunity to dispute the accusations against them, dispute the alleged evidence against them, or even to access legal counsel.
On July 28, 2008, Muhammad al-Bakri filed a Habeas Corpus Petition on his son’s behalf in U.S. Federal Court. Judge John D. Bates, who heard the case, found that non-Afghans captured outside the battlefield ought to be able to hold their military jailers accountable, and, like those imprisoned at Guantánamo, should be entitled to their day in court. Judge Bates held that, “The only reason these petitioners are in a theater of war is because [U.S. government forces] brought them there.” Since 2003, when the Supreme Court began to consider legal rights for prisoners at Guantánamo, the U.S. military has largely sent prisoners to Bagram, instead. Judge Bates’ decision made clear that our government cannot simply kidnap people and hold them beyond the law.
A Federal Court of Appeals overturned Judge Bates’ decision in May 2010, deferring to the Government’s arguments that Bagram prisoners have no right to challenge their confinement. Now Amin’s attorneys have offered the lower Court new evidence showing that the government is using Bagram to evade judicial review and public scrutiny.
Amin’s struggle for justice continues, and so does the struggle for all those imprisoned by the U.S. without due process of law. We urge the courts to recognize and respect the rights of the Bagram prisoners, so that they are not imprisoned indefinitely but can go back to their families and rebuild their lives. We urge the U.S. legislature to repeal repressive legislation that codifies sham due process and indefinite imprisonment. We urge the American public to question the imprisonment and torture of these men at the behest of the United States government. And we urge you to educate and speak out to your communities and congressional officials to condemn practices of torture, imprisonment, and war.
Learn more about Amin and other Bagram prisoners, International Justice Network
Appeals Court Rules Against Bagram Detainees, Associated Press, May 21, 2010
U.S. to Give Afghan Detainees New Rights, Associated Press, Sept. 12, 2009
At Jail in Bagram, A Detainee Protest, Washington Post, July 16, 2009
Obama’s Gitmo?, Washington Independent, Jan. 7, 2009
Lawyer Questions Plan to Tear Down Afghan Prison, Associated Press, Dec. 31, 2009
Foreign Detainees Have U.S. Right, BBC News, April 2, 2009