The other Guantanamo

A US captain on a tour of Bagram prison in 2009.
A US captain on a tour of Bagram prison in 2009.

At Bagram prison in Afghanistan, prisoners are kept without charge, trial, or access to a lawyer. On 3 September, I wrote a blog for the New Statesman, The other Guantanamo, asking what will happen to this prison after the US pull-out next year. The main sticking point is the fact that there are more than 60 foreign nationals being held at the prison, who are stuck in a legal black hole, subject to lengthy repatriation negotiations and bureaucratic delays.

I also wrote a feature for US-based website Alternet, published 14 September, looking at the prison – and the plight of the prisoners there – in more detail. Here’s an excerpt:

Ayaz was 15 when he traveled to Afghanistan, from his native Pakistan, to take a job in a restaurant. He had been there a few weeks when American soldiers entered, asked for him by name, and took him away. That was in 2004. It was the start of a six-year nightmare. Ayaz was held first at a military base, and then at the notorious Bagram prison. To this day, he does not understand why he was detained, but believes a co-worker falsely accused him of being a terrorist in exchange for a reward.

During his imprisonment, he had little access to justice. “They said that I was a suicide bomber and that I want to bomb the USA,” he said. “I had a representative who was not a lawyer. He would often make my case worse.” In 2011, Ayaz was repatriated to Pakistan. He claims he had been cleared two years earlier, after US officials determined that he was not a combatant and there were no grounds to hold him.

I wrote the piece with the help of Justice Project Pakistan, a not-for-profit organisation which is representing some of the Pakistani nationals held at Bagram.

Opium Brides

Poppy Cultivation More Than Doubled In Badakhshan
A 10 year old girl stands in a poppy field in Fayzabad, Afghanistan.

The drugs trade in Afghanistan is having a terrible human cost. The documentary “Opium Brides“, made by Clover Films, looks at the plight of poppy farmers who have taken loans from drug traffickers. Due to the government’s policy of destroying crops, these farmers are often left with huge debts and no means of repaying them.

As a result, traffickers are seizing their children, who can be as young as five or six. Journalist Najibullah Quraishi travelled into the Afghan countryside to interview families trapped in this situation. I interviewed the film’s producer, Jamie Doran, for a recent issue of Grazia magazine. The cutting is below.