On May 29 it was revealed that British forces were operating a prison camp inside Camp Bastion, in Afghanistan. As US President Barack Obama was reinforcing his commitment to close America's detention center at Guantanamo Bay, are reports that the UK was operating a similar facility inside of Camp Bastion in Afghanistan were not welcomed.
The prison came to light when the BBC received documents which suggest the men are being unlawfully detained and interred.
British lawyers acting for 14 of the men are taking their case to the UK High Court in an effort to free them. Although some of the prisoners have been held for 14 months, officials representing the British army claim their detention is legal under the UN mandate.
According to the BBC: “British forces in Afghanistan, operating as part of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), are allowed to detain suspects for 96 hours. However, in "exceptional circumstances" - for example, to gather critical intelligence to protect lives - they can hold them for longer periods. The Ministry of Defence has previously said that Isaf neither has the power nor the facilities to intern detainees in Afghanistan.”
The UK Defense Secretary Philip Hammond imposed a ban on transferring prisoners to Afghan forces in November 2012 after reports of prisoner abuse. However, that was six months ago and does not explain why some prisoners have been held for 14 months.
Lawyers acting for eight of the men claim their clients were captured during raids on local villages and have been held without trial. Habeas corpus applications were launched at the High Court in London April 18, with a full hearing scheduled for late July.
Habeas corpus, in this context, argues for the right to be brought before a court to determine whether their detainment is lawful or not.
The MoD, Ministry of Defense, insists that all the prisoners pose a risk to military personnel. They allege that the captives have links to insurgents and have had some involvement in bomb making, planting IEDs, improvised explosive devices or killing soldiers.
A spokesperson for the MoD claims that it is the threat of legal action which is holding up the transfer of some prisoners to Afghan officials. However as the BBC report states:
“One prisoner, a teenager, has been held for 14 months, while the other, a 20-year-old father, has been held for 12 months. In legal papers Dan Squires, a barrister for the 20-year-old, told the High Court: "He has not been granted access to lawyer nor brought before a court. "He does not know how long he is to remain detained or for what purpose. He has asked whether he will be transferred to Afghan authorities but had been told they do not consider that he has committed any criminal offence and so do not want to receive him.”
With echoes of Gitmo, the Guantanamo detention facility, British people were not happy to learn of this secret detention facility in Camp Bastion.
This week the British look set to hand over up to 90 detainees to the Afghan authorities, having received reassurances about the safety of any transers.
War is a dirty business and, yes, the proverbial happens. That said, this prison was kept as a dirty secret. It was not approved by parliament and appears to operate in much the same way that Guantanamo does.
The prisoners held at Camp Bastion have not been tried, nor are they likely to be. The families of those held in the "temporary prison" had no idea where they were being kept until the Red Cross helped them locate their loved ones. This no doubt led to the legal action being launched.
No doubt the threat of legal action has forced Philip Hammond's hand. Whether the people will be handed over and when remains to be seen. However now the detention facility is no longer a secret watch this space.
If the Guantanamo Bay detention facility is America's shame, is Camp Bastion the UK's?