Bagram Airbase

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Image of the Bagram exterior with guards

The notorious Bagram prison was finally closed in December 2014, ending the thirteen-year regime of torture and illegal detention carried out at the remote US airbase in Afghanistan.

In 2014, Reprieve client Yunus Rahmatullah was freed after a decade of abuse in Bagram.

“Yunus Rahmatullah has been through 10 years of unimaginable horror. Now that he has finally been able to speak freely to his lawyers, there is no longer any doubt that the British government bears responsibility for his torture and illegal rendition to Bagram.”
Kat Craig, Legal Director at Reprieve

Originally used to ‘process’ prisoners seized when America invaded Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11, the site quickly became backlogged with detainees, many of whom had been sold to the Americans for a bounty. Bagram prison originally consisted of crudely-fashioned metal cages surrounded by coils of razor wire. Reprieve learned that around twenty people would be packed into a cage, forced to sleep on mats, and given no alternative but to use plastic buckets as improvised lavatories.

Prisoners at Bagram had fewer legal rights than those in Guantánamo Bay because they have never been given the chance to challenge their detention. Denied access to lawyers and never charged with any crimes, they face being held indefinitely in highly secretive conditions.

Military personnel described it as “far more spartan” than the facilities at Guantanamo Bay. Faced with serious overcrowding in 2004, the prison was ‘refurbished’ to provide flushing toilets. Subsequently, in 2005 the US army declared Bagram to have a ‘maximum capacity’ of 595 prisoners, despite hundreds of detainees who survived in wire-mesh pens until the prison’s closure.

“The camp looked like the Nazi camps that I saw in films… Lying on the floor of the compound, all night I would hear the screams of others in the rooms above us as they were tortured and interrogated.”
Omar Deghayes, former prisoner at Bagram and Guantanamo Bay.

The list of abuses carried out against detainees is extensive. Former prisoners report that guards beat them, forced them to hold stress positions, sexually abused and humiliated them, subjected them to sensory deprivation, deprived them of sleep, food and water, exposed them to long periods of very cold temperatures, doused them with freezing water, and forced them to listen to music at extremely high volume for extended periods of time.

Dilawar was an Afghan farmer and taxi driver, arrested at a checkpoint and handed over to American soldiers. His interrogators knew he was innocent, yet his captors murdered him in December 2002. They chained him to the ceiling of his cell by his wrists, eventually dislocating his arms from their sockets. Guards viciously beat his legs over 100 times – violence which was “a kind of running joke”. As a result, his legs became “pulpified”, according to the autopsy report, and would have been amputated had he survived. But the blunt trauma killed him. He had a wife and young daughter.

The British government still remains subject to legal challenges for its part in renditions, torture, and illegal indefinite detentions at Bagram. Prisoners at Bagram had fewer legal rights than those in Guantánamo Bay: denied access to lawyers and never charged with any crime, those held were detained in highly secretive conditions. No civilian lawyers ever entered Bagram meaning that some prisoners were tortured, never tried, and then released without charge. Even though Bagram closed in 2014, some of its prisoners are still detained elsewhere, and for those who were released many will have lifelong traumas caused by their illegal imprisonment.

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