Thursday, February 4, 2016

Lowenstein Clinic Assists Brothers Stranded in Afghan Prison

On January 23, 2016, students in the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic gathered around the phone to speak with their clients, Sa’id Jamaluddin and Abdul Fatah, held at the Afghan National Detention Facility. The call was the first contact the two brothers have had with anyone outside of Afghanistan since they were captured by U.S. forces in 2009. Sa’id and Abdul reported that they, along with another Lowenstein client Musa Akhmadjanov, began a hunger strike on January 18 to protest their ongoing confinement.

Together with Tina Foster, of the U.S.-based International Justice Network, the Clinic is pressing U.S. and Afghan authorities to find a solution for all three men. Jacqueline Van De Velde ’17, a Lowenstein Clinic student, said, “The unfairness is striking. These men have already suffered for six years and for no good reason.” 

The brothers’ detention follows years of litigation, supported by past Clinic students and others, to challenge U.S. detention practices at Bagram. Hope Metcalf, who co-teaches the Clinic, reflected, “This case is a perfect example of why detention can’t happen in the shadows. For nearly a decade, we tried to convince U.S. officials to give people like Sa’id and Abdul access to courts and lawyers. They refused, and this is the predictable result.”

Andrew Udelsman ’17, a Lowenstein student, agreed: “We ask the United States to do right by these two brothers and find a safe third country where Sa’id and Abdul can begin their lives again.”

Sa’id Jamaluddin was seventeen years old when he was arrested by U.S. forces in Northern Afghanistan in 2009. He and his older brother, Abdul Fatah, were staying at a friend’s house when it was targeted by a U.S. military raid. Though no weapons or incriminating evidence were found at the scene, U.S. authorities arrested the brothers and sent them to the U.S. military prison at Bagram Air Base. After months of interrogation, the U.S. government found no evidence linking the brothers to the Taliban or terrorism. Nor did it find any crime with which to charge Sa’id or Abdul.

A military review board determined in February 2010 that the brothers posed no risk to the United States and approved their transfer out of Bagram. But the brothers could not go home to Tajikistan, where they faced risk of torture and death. The U.S. government failed to find a safe third country for the brothers’ resettlement, so Sa’id and Abdul remained at Bagram Prison for the next five years. In December 2014, the U.S. Department of Defense closed Bagram Prison and transferred the brothers to Afghan custody. Two months later, an Afghan court ruled that they were entitled to release; this decision was affirmed by Afghanistan’s highest court. But nearly a year after the transfer, the brothers remain in custody.

Sa’id and Abdul have vowed not to eat until they are freed. “The Afghan courts have said we are entitled to be released,” said Sa’id. “But we are being kept in a maximum security prison—we should not be here.”

Musa Akhmadjanov, the third Bagram detainee protesting his unlawful detention, cannot be repatriated to his country of origin – Uzbekistan – due to the risk of torture. Afghan courts found that Musa was not guilty of any crime under Afghan law, and ruled in June 2015 that he was entitled to release.

The start of the brothers’ hunger strike comes three days after the Pentagon transferred ten detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Oman in the largest transfer to a single country within the Obama Administration. “The U.S. government has responsibility for us,” Sa’id remarked. “Do they want to find some solution, or leave us behind?”

The Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Law Clinic is a Law School course that gives students firsthand experience in human rights advocacy under faculty supervision by Clinic Director Jim Silk ’89, Clinical Professor of Law, Hope Metcalf, Executive Director of the Schell Center and Clinical Lecturer in Law, and Alisha Bjerregaard ’08, Cover-Lowenstein Fellow.