Ayaz was 15 when he traveled to Afghanistan, from his native Pakistan, to take a job in a restaurant.
He had been there a few weeks when American soldiers entered, asked for him by name, and took him away. That was in 2004. It was the start of a six-year nightmare. Ayaz was held first at a military base, and then at the notorious Bagram prison. To this day, he does not understand why he was detained, but believes a co-worker falsely accused him of being a terrorist in exchange for a reward.
During his imprisonment, he had little access to justice. “They said that I was a suicide bomber and that I want to bomb the USA,” he said. “I had a representative who was not a lawyer. He would often make my case worse.” In 2011, Ayaz was repatriated to Pakistan. He claims he had been cleared two years earlier, after US officials determined that he was not a combatant and there were no grounds to hold him.
Ayaz, now in his early 20s, lost six years of his life, but he was one of the lucky ones. Of the 3,000 prisoners currently held at Bagram prison, there remain around 67 foreign nationals, who are caught in a legal black hole and held without charge, trial or even access to a lawyer. As the US prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, the question of what will happen to this notorious prison is becoming more pressing. Is it about to become the next Guantanamo?
The prison is the largest of the detention centers opened by the US as part of its military operations in Afghanistan. Located around 60 kilometers north of Kabul, it gets its name from the Bagram Air Base, to which the original site was adjacent. The prison came into use soon after the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, but in 2004—because of difficulties detaining extra prisoners at Guantanamo Bay—it became the primary detention site for suspected militants and terrorists.