As American troops continue their planned withdrawal from Afghanistan and wind down their combat role in favor of their Afghan allies, at least one facility continues to operate without interruption. The Detention Facility in Parwan. close to Bagram Airport in northern Afghanistan, still holds the 40 most dangerous non-Afghan prisoners still in American custody. The prison has come under criticism for reportedly harsh conditions of confinement that have sparked repeated hunger strikes.
Hunger strikes have long been utilized by prisoners who felt that their situations were so hopeless that they had no other alternative to protest their circumstances. They first came into public prominence decades ago when Irish Republican Army member Bobby Sands died in British custody after refusing to eat for weeks. More recently, prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have resorted to hunger strikes to draw public attention to their grievances.
Although the situation at Guantanamo has gotten the most publicity, and lawsuits attacking conditions and confinement at that facility have made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, the situation at Bagram has only recently come to light. According to recently released prisoners, hunger strikes there have been a common occurrence to protest unclean water, lack of access to the International Committee of the Red Cross, placement of other prisoners in segregation, and other complaints.
Unlike similar protests at Guantanamo that were highly publicized, and resulted in forced-feeding to keep prisoners alive at that facility, those at Bagram were on a much smaller scale and lasted much less time. Abdul Sattar, who was confined for 2 and ½ years at Bagram said, “This was the way we could protest and get things done that we wanted. The Americans did not want to talk to us, they never sat with us around the table to discuss the problems with us….Most of the time (the Americans) never listened. We had to eat something because we were too weak and wouldn’t stay alive.”
According to Sattar, who said that he took part in five or six such hunger strikes, the nature of the confinement, wherein prisoners were kept in large cells with as many as thirty other prisoners, contributed to their taking place. Like all other facts concerning the Bagram prison facility, the U.S. officials would not comment on the hunger strikes or any other prisoner allegations of abuse. By terms of an earlier agreement, only non-Afghans are now under U.S. custody there.
Unlike Guantanamo prisoners, Bagram detainees have no legal rights to challenge their detention, and are rarely seen by human rights activists. According to Tina Foster of the International Justice Network, “The fact that they are desperate enough to starve themselves indicates not only that they are suffering immensely, but also that they hope people of conscience will call for an end to their plight.” Activists noted that although the current Administration has reduced the prisoner population at Guantanamo, the count at Bagram continues to rise.
Sattar also said that, “If they treat (detainees) well and give them all the things they need, they won’t go on hunger strikes, but if they don’t give them their basic rights and basic needs, they will definitely go on hunger strike, because this is the only way they can register their protest and try to make things better for them.”
Sources: www.freedomarchives.org, “Revealed: the hunger strikes of America’s most secret foreign prisoners,” www.theguardian.com, 2014.
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