Afghanistan commission alleges prisoner abuse by US
It's one of the thorniest issues between the government of Hamid Karzai and the US military; what to do about 3,000 detainees at a prison run jointly by the two countries.
Last week, Karzai demanded an immediate handover of the prison to Afghan authorities while yesterday, a commission charged with looking into conditions and issues surrounding the prison accused the US military of abuse.
The dispute that has unfolded in recent days recreates many of the thorny issues surrounding the controversial U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay. There, as at the prison in Afghanistan, American forces are holding many detainees without charging them with a specific crime or presenting evidence in a civil court.
Detainees interviewed during two visits to the U.S.-run portion of the prison outside Bagram Air Base north of Kabul complained of freezing cold, humiliating strip searches and being deprived of light, according to Gul Rahman Qazi, who led the investigation ordered by Karzai.
Another investigator, Sayed Noorullah, said the prison must be transferred to Afghan control "as soon as possible," adding that "If there is no evidence ... they have the right to be freed."
U.S. Embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall said Saturday that American officials only received the commission's report after its press briefing. He said all allegations of prisoner abuse are seriously investigated and repeated that the U.S. is committed to turning over all its prisons in Afghanistan "in a responsible manner."
Karzai on Thursday abruptly demanded that the U.S. military turn over full control of the prison, officially known as the Parwan Detention Center but generally referred to as the Bagram prison, within a month. A spokesman for the president said Saturday that he made the announcement in response to the investigation team's report.
The president's demand for full control of the prison took many by surprise, since the U.S. and Afghan governments had been working on a gradual timetable for transferring responsibility for the prison over the next two years.
Intelligence implicating most of the prisoners is usually gleaned through informants - a release of their name would mean certain death. Those information sources would dry up quickly if the US were forced to reveal their names in open court, thus our insistence that the intelligence is off limits to the Afghan justice system.
Other intel implicating suspects using national technical means like intercepted communications and satellite and drone imagery would also be denied to Afghan courts. The question facing the US is how dangerous would be releasing 2700 accused terrorists and Taliban fighters?
Obviously, as with Gitmo, we would be very reluctant to allow the Afghans to free most of the prisoners while we have tens of thousands of Americans in country. It should be a matter for negotiations but Karzai, under increasing pressure, appears to prefer ordering his allies to comply with his edicts.
Expect the US to reject Karzai's order and continue to negotiate for the prison handover.