In July 2008, 14-year-old Hamidullah Khan was picked up in Pakistan, his home country, and handed over to the Americans as a terrorist. He was shipped to Afghanistan and thrown into the US military prison in Bagram – unable to contact his family to tell them his location or get a lawyer to ensure his most basic rights were being met. Hamidullah was a child. The last four years of his life should have been spent playing football with his friends, going to school or spending time with his family, or in any of the other simple occupations of childhood which you or I would take for granted. Instead, he has been languishing behind bars, imprisoned in the legal black hole that is Bagram, while the final years of his childhood dwindle away to nothing.
I have never spoken to Hamidullah (lawyers are not allowed in Bagram) but as a fellow human being, I feel it is my duty to ensure that he is not forgotten, and to hope that while he has been robbed of his young life, he will not also be robbed of his adulthood.
Secret prisons like Bagram have become a crutch for the USA, and for international intelligence agencies, in the so-called “war on terror.” Used to stow away “suspects” without any need for evidence, procedure, or accountability, they have quickly become venues beyond the reach of the law. The concept of fundamental rights, including the assumption of innocence, has been cleanly erased. The US has sacrificed human rights worldwide – and in the process, human life – in the false belief that this will ensure its security.
My charity, Reprieve, along with our partners, the Justice Project, represent seven Pakistanis held beyond the rule of law in Bagram. We are trying to secure their most basic legal rights, and ultimately their release from a facility that has been described as “Guantanamo’s evil twin.” After a year of adjournments and our petition being handed from judge to judge, it had begun to look like Bagram might forever remain beyond the reach of Pakistani law – even though many of the Bagram Pakistanis have been “cleared for release.”
But there is hope yet. The recent order passed by Justice Khalid Mehmood Khan of Lahore High Court in the case of these seven individuals has begun to push the door open for the law.
The judge’s response to our petition was insightful. He asked the government’s Standing Counsel why it was that while criminals like Raymond Davis can get away with murder and be sent back to their country so quickly, innocent Pakistani children are allowed to suffer torture in a foreign country for years on end, without any evidence against them. In October, Justice Khalid Mehmood ordered Pakistan’s government to send a representative to Bagram to interview the prisoners, collect all the relevant information regarding their arrest and charges against them, if any, and report back to the court in one month.
This order is not only a victory for the innocent detainees biding their time at Bagram, but also for the Pakistani nation in general and the judiciary in particular. For Justice Khalid Mehmood Khan to stand up to US pressure, and to uphold the rights of ordinary people in this madness that is the “war on terror,” is no small feat.
Pakistan could use a lot more judges like Justice Khalid Mehmood Khan; judges with integrity, who are faithful to the law and who are not afraid of challenging the illegal practices that have spread from the US throughout the world during the “war on terror.” It is heartening to know that while the fight to bring the rule of law to Bagram is far from over, someone like Justice Khalid Mehmood Khan continues to seek the truth against all odds. As long as he does so, there is still hope for the young man who has been forced to grow up in a foreign prison, and sadly beyond the reach of the law.
By: Clive Stafford Smith, Founder and director of Reprieve, UK.