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Bagram prison: Another Guantanamo in the making?

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan –The Bagram prison in Afghanistan is at risk of becoming the next Guantanamo Bay detention facility with some inmates being held without basic legal rights, a Pakistani human rights law firm said Wednesday.  

“The majority of these detainees are Pakistani citizens; some werecleared for release in 2010 yet remain trapped in indefinite detention,” Justice Project Pakistan, a non-profit organization that provides free legal services for poor prisoners, said in a report.

“Pakistani detainees are losing hope. This raises the worrying specter of another Guantanamo Bay on Afghan soil,” it said.

The United States has managed detention operations in and around Bagram airbase since the first days of the American overthrow of the Taliban. The U.S. military handed control of the Parwan detention facility, operated by Americans since 2010, to Afghanistan in March.  

The Afghan government is now responsible for approximately 3,000 Afghans in custody there. But the U.S. continues to control at least 60 non-Afghan prisoners at the facility, suspected militants including around 40 Pakistanis, “in indefinite detention without charges, trial, or access to a lawyer,” the JPP report said.

Col. Jane Crichton, Public Affairs Director for U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, acknowledged the presence of the non-Afghan prisoners but said the detainees were being held “humanely and lawfully” under the Law of War. 

“There is an ongoing process of review to determine if those held by us still continue to present a security threat,” she said.

"The ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) are aware of, have access to, and routinely visit all of our detention sites,” she added.

Justice Project Pakistan's director Sarah Belal discusses the Pakistani prisoners being held without legal representation at Bagram prison in Afghanistan.Fakhar Ur Rehman / NBC News

While the issue has not gotten much attention in Pakistan, the government there insists that it is concerned about the welfare of all Pakistanis detained in Afghanistan.  

"We remain in touch with the U.S. and relevant afghan authorities and ICRC," said Azaz Ahmed Chaudry, a spokesman for Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"We have consistently emphasized that Pakistani nationals should be released. For our part we remain ready to facilitate early and quick release (and) transfer of the detainees. Our embassy in Afghanistan remains in touch with the concerned afghan authorities for the welfare of our nationals in Afghanistan." 

In spite of the Pakistani government's assurances that it is working on behalf of its citizens being held in Bagram, families of some of the detainees feel they have nowhere to turn. 

Ghulam Fatima, 27, says she has had no means of support since her husband Iftikhar Ahmed disappeared in February 2010 in Chaman on the border with Afghanistan.

"Four months after his disappearance I talked to him and ICRC helped him establish the phone call," she said.

"Ahmed used to send me 10,000 rupees (approximately $100 dollars) per month. After his arrest, I am living with my brother, his parents are praying for his early release with tears in their eyes all the time," she said.

Meanwhile, activists call for the new Pakistani government will tackle the issue before the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan in 2014.

Justice Project Pakistan’s director Sarah Belal said she was worried that Ahmed and other Pakistanis in Bagram could languish for years in limbo.

“Afghanistan got back its 3,000 citizens after six months of negotiation,” Justice Project Pakistan’s director Sarah Belal said.

“My worst fear is that it’s going to be another Guantanamo Bay. They are lost in the dark corner of the world.”

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