43 Pakistani Returned From Bagram Prison But Who Will Heal Their Wounds
Nida Jaffery reflects on the abuse and torture borne by Pakistanis detained in Bagram who returned home thanks to the judicial, executive and public action within Pakistan.
The Detention Facility in Parwan, otherwise known as ‘The Bagram Prison”, is no longer operational, but it has left indelible scars on the minds and bodies of those imprisoned. In 2014, 43 Pakistanis returned to their homeland after spending several years in extrajudicial detainment. Torture remained rampant while the world looked the other way.
In the words of Hannah Arendt, Evil is perhaps just banal to some.
I spent much of last year listening to these stories and had the opportunity to work with the lawyers and human rights’ defenders who fought for the repatriation of these destitute men day in and day out. Their battle wasn’t an easy one.
The naysayers termed the war against terror in Afghanistan ‘a non-international armed conflict’ rendering the detainees in custodial deprivation of their liberties. No International Humanitarian Law (IHL) safeguarded their basic rights. Even the notorious Geneva Convention failed them, providing negligible grounds to challenge the legality of their detention. In the case of NIAC, neither does the Geneva Convention deal with reasons for detainment, nor does it establish procedures to challenge the legality of the act.
A group of unethical personnel sitting in the Pentagon figured out ways to circumvent essentially every legal barrier and military tradition that stood in the way of unfettered display of power. They stripped vulnerable men off their habeas corpus rights, propelling them into a legal blackhole.
There mustn’t be any two opinions that the international law needs to be revised and updated. What brought these men relief, however, was the moral and legal liability of Pakistan. While the world made peace with the possibility of these disadvantaged men never returning home – despite being innocent in most cases – the Pakistani legal system reigned victorious.
Article 4 of the Constitution of Pakistan makes it mandatory for the Government to protect the right of Pakistani citizens to be dealt with in accordance with the law, ‘wherever they may be’. From 2010 to 2014, the Lahore High Court held hearings on the matter nearly every week until the Pakistani government acted. After almost four years of painstaking litigation and public awareness campaigns, 43 Pakistanis were finally repatriated – released without charge, but with years shaved off their backs.
Without the strong constitutional framework of this land, the repatriation of these men would have been a pipe dream. But the fight does not end here. Five years today to this infamous win, we must ask our collective conscience if the needle is moving in the right direction.
Today, if we fight the same case, will the constitution of Pakistan win again? Probably, not.
The order of chaos, once an exception created by USA, the most powerful nation in the world, is now becoming an acceptable norm. Our own government’s moral authority is compromised today – stubbornness weighs heavier than fundamental rights.
Sadly we are now witnessing the erosion of Pakistan’s domestic legal order. From military courts and incommunicado detentions to internment camps and enforced disappearances, the country is embracing the same practices it stood against. It is is now busy in disenfranchising the already disenfranchised. The recent detention of peaceful protestors is another demonstration of the same.
It’s time for us to hold the mirror up to our own faces.
A lot of times lawyers and policy makers get caught up in legal arguments and technical jargon. But the returnees of Bagram are proofs that they are much more than mere legal and political arguments or rhetoric. They are human beings whose lives have been marred by trauma, torn apart by abuse and, in some cases, downright snatched away by banal evil.
We must strengthen our domestic constitutional framework. A repetition of anything even remotely close to the Bagram ordeal, whether inside or outside the country, will be nothing short of a travesty. A uniform consular protection policy must also be implemented for the safeguard of our citizens facing detention abroad. A well-established legal system within must look out for those who are left helpless by the International Law outside.
And for those who have come back from Bagram – we’re deeply sorry. But, that’s not all that we should be. We need to make amends; not only for the time that was taken away from their lives but for the years to come. Their future hinges on the support our government provides to them. Their physical and mental condition will impede their ability to fend for themselves. Compensation is essential but more importantly opportunities are needed whereby th returnees can rebuild their lives.
It is time to end the systemic abuse that Pakistanis have to undergo, both at home and abroad.
Nida Jaffery is a communications and policy professional working in the field of development and human rights.