Despite Promise, US Clings to Control over Afghan Prison
Tensions high between two countries as US pressures Karzai over Bagram, security deal
The United States is putting pressure on the Afghan government to keep 88 prisoners who have been cleared for release from Bagram prison behind bars, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.
The U.S. supposedly handed over control of the military prison, a facility that has been marked by a history of torturous conditions and other human rights abuses, to the Afghan government in March.
However, the U.S. military has maintained its authority within the prison's walls including complete control over 67 non-Afghan prisoners.
The insistence by the U.S. against Afghanistan's planned releases does not bode well for the strained relationship between the two countries still mired in over a decade of war and a contentious bilateral security deal currently being negotiated.
Relations with Afghanistan have grown particularly strained over President Hamid Karzai's refusal to sign a bilateral security deal that would keep around 8,000 U.S. troops in the country after 2014, when most foreign forces are due to leave.
A U.S. army official said the release of the 88 contravened a presidential decree to complete investigations at the prison and prosecute individuals when required.
In total 650 prisoners have been marked for release from Bagram. While the U.S. claims that 88 of them are dangerous and linked to violent acts, the head of the Afghan commission charged with reviewing their cases, the Afghan Review Board, said the detainees are not dangerous and "In many cases, detainees were wrongly linked to certain incidents they were not involved in."
According to the New York Times, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai approved the releases at a cabinet meeting last week but ordered the commission to give the international military coalition and the main Afghan intelligence agency until Friday to produce evidence against the detainees before they are released.
Adding to the pressure, a group of U.S. senators are currently visiting Afghanistan over concerns that Karzai will not sign the contentious security accord proposed by the U.S. that will allow several thousand U.S. soldiers to remain in the country in exchange for billions of dollars in Western aid.
While there, the senators urged Karzai to halt the release of the 88 detainees.
"If these releases go ahead it will do irreparable damage to the relationship," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters at a news conference in Kabul on Thursday.