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Amnesty International USA, March 9, 2009

A US federal judge considering whether detainees held by the USA in Bagram airbase in Afghanistan may challenge their detention before courts in the USA has ordered the administration of President Barack Obama to provide him with updated information on the Bagram detainees, by 11 March.

Amnesty International has written to the US administration urging it to inject some much needed transparency into the Bagram detention regime, including by making fully available to the public the information requested by District Court Judge John Bates.

When the Bush administration was asked by Judge Bates in January 2009 to disclose the number of people being held in Bagram, how many of them were taken into custody outside of Afghanistan, and how many of them were Afghan nationals, it responded by classifying as secret the key details and redacted them from the unclassified version of the filing.

Judge Bates has now asked the Obama administration the same questions, noting that the details supplied to him by the government in January may be out of date. Amnesty International has urged the new administration not to repeat its predecessor’s use of secrecy to conceal from the public its response to the judge. Transparency, essential to accountability and detainee protection, must be central to US detention policy. As President Obama has himself instructed his administration, “transparency promotes accountability”.

Figures released in late February by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the only organization with access to Bagram detainees, indicate that there were then about 550 detainees in the airbase. This was down from the figure of “about 615″ provided by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to the Senate Armed Services Committee a month earlier.

New detentions by US and allied forces in Afghanistan continue. According to reports by the American Forces Press Service, at least 120 “militants” were taken into custody during January and February 2009. It is not known how many, if any, have been or will be transferred to Bagram. The US authorities should provide regular public information on the numbers and nationalities of those held in US custody in Bagram and elsewhere in Afghanistan, and where, when, and in what circumstances they were taken into detention.

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