It’s known locally as Afghanistan‘s Guantanamo. Those who were held here feared they’d never leave. Many who did leave have never been the same since.
We’re the first Western television team to get inside the infamous prison. Both the Americans and their Afghan security partners are particularly sensitive about outside eyes seeing inside.
We squeeze through twisted sheets of corrugated metal where captives forced their way out hours after the capital fell to the Taliban and only weeks after the US soldiers left the base in a hurry. The Taliban unlocked all the cells holding those who hadn’t been able to break out themselves – among them hundreds suspected of being ISIS-K prisoners, from an offshoot of the so-called Islamic State terrorist group.
Now the Taliban is manning the gates of the huge sprawling military base which grew into a small city and was the coalition’s main military hub during its 20-year-long military mission. Originally built by Russian invaders in the 1950s, the Americans extended it to include a gym, a 50-bed hospital and the much-feared detention centre.
In the detention centre, they housed and interrogated the Taliban fighters they caught in battle or suspects they feared would end up on the battlefield.
Some were viewed as high-ranking terror suspects but there were also hundreds of ordinary Afghans – farmers, stallholders, students and Taliban sympathisers deemed dangerous or suspicious.
They were held, sometimes for years, without charges or trials. The stories of torture, water boarding, abuse, beatings and mistreatment were rife.
Former president Hamid Karzai told Sky News in an interview he gave before the Taliban pushed out the Ashraf Ghani government that the existence of the Bagram detention centre and the terrible stories emanating from within it infuriated him and caused multiple fallouts between him and the American politicians he dealt with.
He never forgave his American partners for what happened inside Bagram detention centre.
“They were meant to come here for peace, not bomb villages and hold captives,” he told us in July.
The Americans said a few years ago they handed over control to the Afghan security partners they had trained but few in the country believed the US relinquished complete control especially as the centre sits inside the military base they ran and operated.
For most Afghans, the Bagram detention centre was firmly an American creation and one which continues to be a terrible stain on their reputation.
Every dark, dank corridor and every ransacked room in the detention centre holds a story – and all of them seem grim.
There are dozens of scattered photographs of terrified-looking men, many of them young, staring out at the camera dressed in their orange prisoner suits, pressed up against height charts.
The interrogation rooms are heavily padded to ensure they’re sound-proofed and the lack of electricity means we are stumbling around in the dark using the lights on our mobile phones, which adds to the eeriness.
In one storeroom we find black-out goggles and earmuffs, probably used for sensory deprivation alongside piles and piles of orange suits, next to cable ties of varying lengths.