What happened to prisoners at Bagram, ‘Afghanistan’s Guantanamo’?

Some were deported, others feel safer in Afghan jail than home and little is known about a US-accused Egyptian prisoner.

Bagram prison - Afghanistan
A prisoner stands in line for his release during a ceremony handing over the Bagram prison to Afghan authorities, at the US airbase in Bagram, north of Kabul March 25, 2013 [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

Before there was Guantanamo, there was Bagram, a US detention site near its giant airbase in Afghanistan, which came to be synonymous with torture and prisoner abuse. 

But when the US relinquished control of the prison, now called Parwan Detention Facility, to Afghan security forces in December 2014, Washington renounced responsibility for the men once held there. 

The handful of prisoners left behind became the Afghans’ problem, one of whom was a Tajik man, Said Jamaluddin, Internment Serial Number 4057, innocent collateral in the US’ so-called “war on terror”. 

He was repatriated from Afghanistan to Tajikistan, where he faces almost-certain ill-treatment, according to legal advocates from the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, who are working on his behalf.  

The clinic believes his brother Abdul Fatah, ISN 4058, was also forcibly sent back.

Afghanistan signed the Convention Against Torture, which stipulates that an individual must not be transferred to another country if there are “substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture”.

Regardless, the men are likely now home, a place that they regarded less than their Afghan prison, the law clinic said. 

The Yale clinic also fears that 38-year-old Musa Akhmadjanov, an Uzbek national, ISN 20370, might soon be rendered home too.

He is being held in a Kabul prison, according to the International Legal Foundation’s (ILF) Afghanistan country director Mohammad Waqar.

This would mean there might be just one US “war-on-terror” prisoner left, an Egyptian named Abu Ikhlas al-Masri, 55, ISN 21064.

The Pentagon alleged he was a member of al-Qaeda with ties to the Afghan Taliban and related Afghan and Kashmiri groups. No proof or any details about any of these allegations have been provided.

There has been no word of him for years and recent efforts to ascertain his whereabouts proved fruitless.

I worry that nearly two decades after 9/11, the US military continues to compromise its obligations under the Geneva Conventions to treat detainees humanely for the sake of expediency - and perhaps because they think no one is paying attention to these forgotten men.

by Wells Dixon, lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights

Afghanistan does not publicly provide information on its security detainees.  

The offices of the Afghan president and the chief executive, the National Directorate of Security, and the Afghanistan Mission to the United Nations did not reply to Al Jazeera’s queries regarding the men. 

The Bagram prisoners were not classified as prisoners of war, which would have guaranteed them certain rights. They had even fewer rights than their counterparts in Guantanamo.

“The Bagram prison was a melting pot of innocent and guilty people from all over the region. After 9/11, thousands of non-Afghans were rounded up,” said Ahmed Rashid, a journalist, author and expert on Afghanistan and the region. “Many of them were totally innocent”.

The group included teachers, volunteers, and aid workers. 

“Nevertheless, they landed in Guantanamo and Bagram and the lack of due diligence … over the years just strengthened the assumptions that they were terrorists,” Rashid added.

From the onset, the “war-on-terror” ideology freed the American government from the rule of law. 

A bus passes a security fence at Bagram Air Base March 2, 2009 in Bagram, Afghanistan [Spencer Platt/Getty Images]
A bus passes a security fence at Bagram Air Base March 2, 2009 in Bagram, Afghanistan [Spencer Platt/Getty Images]

While the Afghans are now the culpable party when it comes to these men, “it is a mistake of the US’ making, and they need to stand up and take responsibility”, said Hope Metcalf of Yale Law School. “And they refuse to accept any responsibility.”  

At age 21, Musa Akhmadjanov, an Uzbek national, fled his country because he faced religious persecution. 

Akhmadjanov went first to the Russian Federation and got by working at carwash facilities and construction sites. Then, he travelled on to Iran, where he thought it would be easier to earn a living.  

In December 2009, he is said to have been deported to Afghanistan. After some time, and after allegedly refusing to pay a bribe to a commander at a border patrol station near Herat, he was handed over to the Americans. His detention in Bagram began on May 23, 2010.

He was subjected to physical abuse by both his American and Afghan captors during his years of detention, according to a report by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. 

Years later, Afghan courts found that there was no evidence that Akhmadjanov committed a crime, and in June 2015 cleared him to leave. But he was unwilling to return to Uzbekistan, where he feared the government’s authoritarian tactics.   

Waqar, from IFL, had been trying to gain access to Akhmadjanov and the Tajik brothers, but despite having the proper permissions, he was unable to.


In 2007, Jamaluddin, now 28, left home for Mashhad, Iran, accompanied by his older brother Abdul Fatah, 37, in hopes of studying there. Abdul Fatah returned home but reunited with his brother two years later in Afghanistan after the Iranians deported Jamaluddin for overstaying his visa.

A friend’s house in Kunduz in which the two were staying was raided by US personnel. No evidence of wrongdoing was found, according to reports. 

Regardless, in March 2009, the brothers were sent to Bagram.

As early as 2010, and in subsequent years, a detainee review board comprising US military personnel ruled that the brothers’ imprisonment was unwarranted.

In February 2015, after paying a heavy price of years in detention at the Parwan facility, the pair was found guilty in Afghan courts of visa-related violations, for which they could have faced a maximum of three years in prison.  

The siblings were sentenced to prison time but were eventually ordered free by the Afghan Supreme Court.

Again, fearing ill-treatment or worse if repatriated to Tajikistan and with no third country willing to accept them, they preferred to remain in an Afghan prison. 

Fatah, the elder brother, is said to be married with four children. He and Jamaluddin are the sons of Amriddin Tabarov, a former political activist who has been accused of being a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and of Jamaat Ansarullah, an alleged extremist group, according to the UN report. 

On several visits to see them in prison, Tajik officials have allegedly threatened the brothers, the report states.  

“The US government has a legal obligation and a moral responsibility to follow up on men who are transferred out of long-term military custody, and to ensure that they aren’t tortured or killed,” said Wells Dixon, a senior staff lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights and an expert on arbitrary detentions. 

“I worry that nearly two decades after 9/11, the US military continues to compromise its obligations under the Geneva Conventions to treat detainees humanely for the sake of expediency – and perhaps because they think no one is paying attention to these forgotten men.”

Source: Al Jazeera