BAGRAM, Afghanistan — The Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai released 65 detainees from the Bagram prison this week, precipitating an angry response by the United States, which accused its Afghan counterparts of freeing inmates “who are responsible for, or contributed to, the deaths of Afghan security force personnel, Afghan civilians and American and other coalition personnel.”
The release of the detainees comes as the U.S. is increasingly at odds with Karzai over the Afghan president’s refusal to sign an agreement that would allow U.S. forces to remain in the war ravaged country beyond 2014. The controversial former U.S. detention facility was controlled by American forces until late 2012.
“The Government of Afghanistan’s decision to release 65 detainees from the Parwan Detention Center is deeply regrettable,” the U.S. embassy in Kabul, the Afghan capital, said in a tersely worded statement. “We requested a thorough review of each case. Instead, the evidence against them was never seriously considered.”
The release of the detainees from Bagram, now known as the Parwan Detention Center, began on Thursday morning, when the freed inmates started emerging from the prison in groups of about six.
Karzai, who has lashed out at the U.S. in public formats on numerous occasions during the past few years, defended the release of the detainees, who the U.S. says includes prisoners who are responsible for the deaths of international troops and Afghan soldiers and civilians.
“Afghanistan is a sovereign country,” Karzai said Thursday at a news conference in the Turkish capital of Ankara. “If the Afghan judicial authorities decide to release the prisoners, it is of no concern to the U.S. and should be of no concern to the U.S.”
Although Karzai inferred that the release was a judicial matter, the decision to free the inmates was reportedly made by the Afghan president personally.
According to a U.S. dossier on the freed inmates, among those freed were 25 prisoners who were linked to the production or placement of improvised explosive devices as well as 33 inmates who tested positive for explosive residue after they were captured. 40 percent of those freed were involved in attacks that killed or wounded 57 Afghan civilians or security forces , while another 30 percent were associated with attacks that killed or injured 60 U.S. or coalition troops.
Washington and Kabul signed an agreement on transferring control of the prison from American to Afghan authorities in March 2012; in September 2012, the U.S. handed jurisdiction over the facility to the Afghan government, although U.S. forces continued to guard about 600 detainees until March 2013.
Thursday’s release and the sharp U.S. response it precipitated is likely to cause already heightened tensions between Afghanistan and the U.S. to escalate even further. Washington has been angered by Karzai’s refusal to sign a long planned Bilateral Security Agreement, despite its approval by a grand tribal assembly, known as a loya jirga, in late 2013.
Karzai had previously promised to sign the accord, which would lay out a legal framework for U.S. forces to remain in the country after their United Nations Security Council mandate expires at the end of this year if the tribal assembly endorsed the pact. The loya jirga not only strongly endorsed the accord, but also called on the Afghan president to affix his signature to the agreement, which would allow 8,000 to 10,000 American troops to remain in the country to conduct counter-terrorism operations and to provide training to the feeble Afghan security forces.
– Eric Erdahl