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New Rights for Afghan Detainees


The U.S. Defense Department has begun implementing a program that will give hundreds of prisoners in Afghanistan the right to challenge their detention.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman says the new policy will allow about 600 detainees being held at the U.S.-run detention center at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to challenge what, for many, has been an indefinite stay.

"It is something we had used in Iraq to help us manage the detainee population and ultimately reduce the detainee population by insuring that we are only holding those that are the most dangerous threat," Whitman said.

The new Pentagon rules would assign a U.S. military official to work with each of the detainees.

The officials would not be lawyers, but would, for the first time, gather evidence and witnesses to help the detainees dispute their detention before a military-appointed review board.

Some of those being held at Bagram have been there for as long as six years.

Unlike detainees at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba, those in Afghanistan have had no access to attorneys, no right to hear the allegations against them and only basic reviews of their status as "enemy combatants."

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman says each detainee will now have the right to be heard within 60 days of his arrival at the center.

"It is basically a review procedure that insures people go in front of a panel periodically, very early on in their detention, and then periodically to give them the opportunity to contest their detention [and] for an assessment to be made as to whether or not they warrant being held," Whitman said.

The Bagram detention center, located north of Kabul, has been used as a holding site for Afghan prisoners as well as terrorism suspects captured outside of the country.

The facility has sparked public resentment in Afghanistan. And human rights groups have condemned the Bagram site as denying detainees basic human rights.

Human rights advocates say those being held at Bagram have been protesting their detention since July by refusing privileges such as family visits and recreation time.

The Obama administration is reviewing the detention policies it inherited from the Bush administration. Human rights organizations say those practices allow for arbitrary and indefinite detention.

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