New allegations of abuse at Bagram

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LISA MULLINS: US forces aren't scheduled to pull back from Afghanistan anytime soon. And while President Obama has promised to close the US prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba by next January, he has made no such promises about another US detention facility, this one outside the Afghan capital, at the Bagram military base. Some former Bagram prisoners claim they were abused while they were in detention. The BBC has conducted an investigation into the conditions at Bagram. Ian Pannell reports from Kabul.

IAN PENNELL: A group of Afghan men sit on a rug drinking tea and talking. This is the first time they've met, but what they have in common is that they've all spent time at the Bagram detention center, and they all claim they were abused there. One of the former Bagram detainees is now drawing an image of how he was treated during his detention. And what we can see is a pretty crude stickman image, but what it clearly shows is him standing up, standing in water, his arms are shackled and tied above his head to the ceiling of the cell in which he was being held. What he told us is that he was held in this position for up to six hours at a time. Nur Habib shows us his leg, and a dark bulging wound running along his vein. A scar, he says, from his days at Bagram. One of the other men, Sebulla describes his experience.

SEBULLA: [TRANSLATED TO ENGLISH] For 16 days and 16 nights I was forced to stand. They wouldn't let me sleep. They only stopped this when my feet were so swollen, I couldn't stand.

IAN PENNELL: Some of these men used to be with the Taliban, but they deny fighting against America. And not one of them has been charged with an offense, or put on trial. Afsa Khan shows us a small dark scar on his arm.

AFSA KHAN: [TRANSLATED TO ENGLISH] He says, this is where he was bitten by a guard at Bakram. These men are just a handful of the former detainees who've spoken to the BBC. Over the last few months we've interviewed 27 people about their detention and interrogation of Bakram. They were all held at periods over the last eight years. A number of allegations are repeated again and again. They talk of being physically abused.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: [TRANSLATED TO ENGLISH] They kicked me, beat me, tortured me. I was injured, and they hit me on my wounds. No one would treat animals this way.

IAN PENNELL: Some were forced to stand for hours or adapt stressed positions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: [TRANSLATED TO ENGLISH] During interrogation we were ordered to kneel on the floor. The Americans sat on our shoulders, they forced us to smell something. They put wires on my back and said they'd give me an electric shock, but they didn't.

IAN PENNELL: They say they were forced to undress, in some cases, in front of female soldiers. Many say dogs were used to frighten or threaten them. They talk of being deliberately deprived of sleep, in some cases for days. And four spoke of being threatened with death at gunpoint.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 3: They put a pistol in my ear and said I had to speak or be shot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 4: They put guns to your head and threatened you with death. They played very loud music and put medicine in our drinks to prevent us from sleeping while they interrogated us.

IAN PENNELL: Most of these techniques are cited in an enquiry by US senators into the treatment of detainees. They're very similar to methods used at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. But unlike Guantanamo, the prisoners at Bagram had no access to lawyers, and cannot challenge their detention. Tina Foster, an American lawyer, is trying to change that.

TINA FOSTER: The Obama Administration maintains that it has the right to take people from anywhere, in any part of the world, and render them to Afghanistan without any type of judicial review in any court of law.

IAN PENNELL: Thousands of people have been held at Bagram over the last eight years. Some are forcibly taken there from abroad. The Obama Administration says they're dangerous men, describing them as terrorist suspects and enemy fighters. We weren't allowed to visit the camp, nor were we offered an interview, however, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Wright, a Pentagon spokesman, responded with a written statement.

MARK WRIGHT: [ACTOR READS STATEMENT] Detention during wartime is not criminal punishment and therefore does not require that individuals be charged or tried in a court of law. Department of Defense policy is and always has been to treat detainees humanely. There have been well-documented instances where that policy was not followed, and service members have been held accountable for their actions.

IAN PENNELL: Last year the US Supreme Court ruled that detainees at Guantanamo should be given legal rights. Barack Obama applauded the ruling, issuing a statement that appears to contradict the position he's now taking as president with regard to Bagram.

BARACK OBAMA: [ACTOR READS STATEMENT] This is an important step towards re-establishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law, and rejecting a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus.

IAN PENNELL: Today lawyers acting for the Obama Administration are trying to stop any change to the legal status of detainees at Bagram. And the president has reversed an earlier decision to release photos taken by US soldiers that allegedly show abuse at the camp, and the detainees continue to be held there without charge or trial. Most of the detainees we interviewed said they'd been given an apology when they were released.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 5: Sorry means nothing. If you had been in prison for five years and I said sorry, what would it mean to you?

IAN PENNELL: America is trying harder than ever to win the war in Afghanistan, but this is a controversy that threatens to damage the image of the new Obama Administration and its relationship with Muslims here, and in Pakistan.

LISA MULLINS: That report from the BBC's Ian Pennel in Kabul, Afghanistan.