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Afghans poised to ‘take over’ US prison

September 10, 2012
KABUL: The United States is due to hand over formal control of a controversial prison housing Taliban fighters to the Afghan government today, in a move hailed by Kabul as a victory for sovereignty.

But disagreements between both sides have led to some suggestions that the transfer is merely symbolic as NATO accelerates the withdrawal of 117,000 combat troops and hands over national security to Afghans by the end of 2014.

Major questions also hang over the immediate and long-term fate of the more than 3,000 inmates, including around 50 foreigners not covered by the agreement and another 600 who were arrested after the deal was concluded.

The Afghan government has organised the ceremony for Monday, ruling out any question of a delay at the Parwan Detention Facility, more frequently referred to as Bagram, the adjacent US base north of Kabul.

Its transfer was set in motion by a memorandum of understanding signed on March 9 that paved the way for a six-month handover.

President Hamid Karzai made addressing long-term Afghan-US relations and possible legal immunity for US troops – the key to combat troops remaining in the country after 2014 – a condition for the transfer.

On Saturday, he called it “an important step towards the recognition of Afghan national sovereignty” in talks with US commander General John Allen and US ambassador James Cunningham.

But Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, told AFP that the meeting had been “tough” and said it was a “serious problem” that more than 600 people detained since the March MoU had not yet been transferred to Afghan custody.

He said they were “in illegal detention because it is a contradiction of the MoU. Foreign troops do not have the right to detain citizens”.

He admitted there were some disagreements with the Americans. “They had their views and we had our position and our expectations based on the MoU,” he said.

Jamie Graybeal, a spokesman for NATO, told AFP that 99 percent of the detainees were under Afghan authority and that the transfer of the rest had been put on hold.

The reason he gave was concerns “regarding the intentions” of the Afghan government to fulfil the terms of the memorandum of understanding.

Graybeal said the United States retained the authority to capture and detain suspects in Afghanistan, but intended to continue to transfer Afghan detainees to Afghans.

According to Afghan officials, detainees have to be handed over within 72 hours.

The fate of around 50 foreigners, mostly from Pakistan and held for years, is not covered by the agreement, which advocacy group the Open Society Foundations says exposes them to the risk of indefinite detention.

“The foreigners are a separate issue and probably in the future the Afghan ministry of foreign affairs will talk in this regard, but this is yet to come. I can’t give any date,” said Faizi.

As a result, the United States is likely to continue to control at least a portion of the jail. The Open Society has also raised concerns that Afghan detention without judicial review could be subject to abuse.

Relatives of detainees currently at the prison have expressed deep concern that conditions may worsen.

In Logar province, a Taliban flashpoint south of Kabul, a farmer said his elder brother was arrested by the Americans two and a half years ago and was at Bagram.

Abdul Rahman, 38, says the family regularly visit Assadullah, a local imam whom they say is held on baseless accusations for links with the Taliban.

“My brother always says he is happy with the way Americans behave in the prison. They are provided good food, they have a mosque and if they get ill, there is a good health centre to treat them,” he told AFP.

He had hoped that Assadullah would be freed before the transfer.

“Because once you are in the Afghan prison, you either have to pay money as a bribe to government people, prosecutors and judges, or they can easily frame charges against you and put you in huge trouble.”

In March, Afghanistan’s human rights commission detailed torture in prisons run by the National Directorate of Security (NDS) intelligence service and the police.

The report also found credible evidence that some detainees transferred to Afghan authorities by international forces had been tortured.

Speaking to AFP, NDS spokesman Shafiqullah Taheri rejected the claims, saying that rights activists regularly visit detention centres.

Abdul Waheed Wafa, analyst and director of the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University, said Monday’s handover was symbolic.

“The president wants to show Afghans and the world that Afghanistan is able to take full security responsibility, but in fact, it is not true. Everybody knows the Afghan government doesn’t have the capacity to run Bagram prison,” he said.

-AFP


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