While the world celebrates the planned closure of Guantanamo there is another US military prison full of terror suspects -- at the Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. How he deals with the camp will indicate how serious Obama is about breaking with his predecessor.
Everyone is talking about Guantanamo these days. Almost every country in the world reacted with relief, if not outright euphoria, to one of the very first announcements by the new President Barack Obama: The US military prison for terror suspects on Cuba would be closed. Torture and CIA secret prisons were finally to be a thing of the past.
One week after Obama's inauguration another black mark on the US war on terror is in the headlines, another of the sins of his predecessor George W. Bush. On Monday the New York Times devoted its top story to the Bagram prison in Afghanistan.
Far less well known than its Cuban counterpart, Bagram is based at the US military airport of the same name located around 60 kilometers north of the Afghan capital Kabul. The newspaper's stark but justified warning is that this camp could present Obama with far greater problems than the one at Guantanamo Bay.
Bagram could indeed become a test of how serious Obama is about altering the US anti-terror policy. He will soon have to say what is going to happen with the camp -- and more fundamentally how the US army under its new commander- in- chief is supposed to deal with terror suspects around the world.
One of the issues facing Obama is what to do about the plan to construct a new prison complex to replace the provisional camp at Bagram, a project that would cost millions of dollars.
And now a US court is considering the camp after four of the inmates challenged their detention there. The judge is holding off on his decision until Feb. 20 -- waiting for at least a signal from the White House on Bagram.
So far, Obama has kept quiet on Bagram. He has set up a commission to look at the issue of terror suspects held abroad. The commission, though, has been given just six months, likely only enough time to obtain an idea of the current state of affairs. At a Guantanamo briefing last week, a senior Obama administration official said not to expect any changes in operations at Bagram before the commission is finished with its review.
The American base at Bagram has been around ever since the US-led war in Afghanistan began. Right after the 2001 invasion, the army took over the former Russian airbase and completely rebuilt it. Now transport planes, military jets and unmanned drones take off and land here 24 hours a day. The site is huge and is surrounded by three security walls. Bright spotlights illuminate every corner of the base -- it is so bright, the halo of light can be seen from Kabul, some 50 kilometers away.
Bagram, known as BAF (Bagram Airfield) in the US Army, is the most important logistical base in the region -- alongside Baghdad Airport. Weapons supplies, soldiers, cars, food: Almost everything the army needs in Afghanistan is transported through BAF. And many wounded soldiers are flown out from the base to the US military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.