Afghan prisoners freed from Bagram amid US protests

 

The US military believes the prison houses some of the most dangerous men on earth, as the BBC's Yalda Hakim reports

Sixty-five detainees have been released from Afghanistan's high-security Bagram detention centre, a move condemned by the US as "deeply regrettable".

The US embassy in Kabul said some of those released were responsible for the deaths of Afghan civilians, and Afghan and coalition troops.

Kabul, which took over control of Bagram last year, insists there is not enough evidence against the detainees.

The Afghan president said the releases were of "no concern to the US".

Speaking after a summit in the Turkish capital Ankara, Hamid Karzai said the US must stop "harassing" his country's judicial authority and respect Afghanistan's sovereignty.

'Never considered'

The detainees began to emerge from the prison gates in groups of about six on Thursday morning, the BBC's David Loyn in Kabul reports.

Mr Karzai has described the jail as a "Taliban-making factory".

Analysis

Along with the 65 now released, there are still believed to be around 70 prisoners in Bagram who have the status of EST - Enduring Security Threat.

They were given this description by the US before they were handed over to the jail. There would be strong American protests if these men were released.

But US attempts to prevent this week's release have failed. They say that the cases were "never seriously considered, including by the attorney general".

The suspicion is that the decision to release the men was political and not legal, and was taken by President Karzai himself.

Now in his last months in office, he has taken a stridently anti-US line in several recent TV interviews.

Some were laughing and smiling as they boarded a bus and taxis to leave the facility, which is now called the Parwan Detention Facility and is about 45km (28 miles) north of Kabul.

Our correspondent spoke to one of the freed men, Nurullah, whom US forces accuse of being a Taliban commander responsible for operations that resulted in the death of a US soldier in Logar province.

Sitting in a cafe, eating his first meal in freedom since his capture last March, Nurullah denied the allegation, saying he had been training as a builder.

In a statement, the US embassy said the decision to release the detainees was "deeply regrettable".

"We requested a thorough review of each case. Instead, the evidence against them was never seriously considered," it said.

Washington says one of the men was captured after being wounded during an attack on Afghan forces.

Others were reportedly arrested carrying weapons including shotguns, assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade-launchers.

Mohibullah in Bagram Inmate Mohibullah told the BBC he was innocent and had not been informed of the evidence against him
Afghan soldier at Bagram, 13 Feb 2014 Security was, as ever, tight around Bagram on Thursday
Hamid Karzai in Sochi, 7 Feb Hamid Karzai says the facility has been a "Taliban-making factory"

The embassy said: "The Afghan government bears responsibility for the results of its decision."

Start Quote

I quickly realised the true darkness of the place. Cell after cell contained men proclaiming their innocence”

End Quote

But President Karzai dismissed the criticism.

"Afghanistan is a sovereign country," he told a news conference on Thursday.

"If the Afghan judicial authorities decide to release the prisoners, it is of no concern to the US and should be of no concern to the US."

The US military said some of the other prisoners released since the Afghans took over control of the prison had "already returned to the fight. Additional released detainees may continue to fill the ranks of the insurgency".

The releases mark a new low in relations between Afghanistan and US forces, our correspondent says.

He adds that the decision is a political one taken personally by President Karzai.

The BBC's David Loyn speaks to some of the detainees after their release

The facility, which houses mainly Taliban and other insurgents captured by Western military forces, has been at the centre of a number of prisoner abuse allegations.

The BBC's Yalda Hakim was recently allowed unprecedented access..

Who are the 65 prisoners?

A US dossier includes information from their mobile phones, details of interviews and pictures of bomb-making equipment. The Afghan authorities say there is not enough evidence to justify detaining them. But according to the US:

  • More than half of the 65 were captured in Afghanistan's volatile southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar
  • Twenty-five were linked to the production and or the placement of IEDs
  • Thirty-three tested positive for explosive residue when processed after capture, the US says
  • 40% were involved in attacks killing or wounding 57 Afghan civilians and soldiers
  • 30% were involved in attacks killing or wounding 60 US or coalition force members
  • At least one was captured after being wounded during an attack on Afghan forces
  • Others were arrested carrying weapons including shotguns, assault rifles and rocket-propelled-grenade-launchers

PDF download Detainee Releases[467KB]

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She says that, compared to some other Afghan jails, it is state-of-the-art, but some of the inmates have been held for years without trial.

President Karzai told her the facility was where innocent people were "turned against their own country".

He added: "The very presence of this... prison is against the Afghan constitution, against all Afghan laws and against the sovereignty of this country."

Mr Karzai denied US claims that the released prisoners had blood on their hands.

However, the BBC's Bilal Sarwary, in Kabul, says that Afghan military officials have privately admitted that some of these men were involved in militant attacks, and there has been a lot of internal debate within the government.

The US-led international military force in Afghanistan is scheduled to hand over all security duties to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.

However, President Karzai has refused to sign a security deal with Washington that would set the final framework.

If signed, the deal could see some 10,000 US troops remain for a number of years.

 
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