US to transfer Bagram prison to Afghans

The United States is to hand formal control of a controversial prison to the Afghan government on Monday, despite disagreements between the two sides on the fate of hundreds of inmates.
In a move hailed by Kabul as a victory for sovereignty, analysts say it is largely symbolic as NATO prepares to leave Afghanistan after more than a decade fighting the Taliban, leaving Afghan security personnel in charge in late 2014.
Major questions remain over the immediate and long-term fate of Bagram prison’s more than 3,000 inmates, which include Taliban fighters and terror suspects.
Around 50 foreigners are not covered by the agreement, and hundreds of other Afghans arrested since the transfer deal was signed on March 9 are being held at the Parwan Detention Facility, outside the Bagram US airbase north of Kabul.
President Hamid Karzai has long demanded authority over the prison, saying its transfer was conditional to him addressing long-term Afghan-US relations and possible legal immunity for US troops — the key to combat troops remaining in the country after 2014.
But his spokesman, Aimal Faizi, says disagreements remain over the interpretation of the MoU and over more than 600 people detained since March 9 who have not yet been transferred.
He told AFP that talks on Saturday between Karzai and the US ambassador, and the US commander in Afghanistan had been “tough” and said the 600 yet to be transferred were being held illegally in contradiction of the MoU.
Jamie Graybeal, a NATO spokesman, says 99 percent of detainees held before March 9 are under Afghan authority and that the transfer of the rest has been put on hold, pending concerns about the intentions of the government to fulfil terms of the MoU.
Graybeal said the United States retained the authority to capture and detain suspects, but intended to continue to transfer Afghan detainees to Afghans.
Afghan officials dispute that right and say any detainees arrested in extenuating circumstances have to be handed over within 72 hours.
The fate of 50 foreigners, mostly from Pakistan, is not covered by the agreement, so the United States is likely to continue to control at least a portion of the jail.
Advocacy group the Open Society Foundations last week raised concerns about holes in the March agreement, the risk of indefinite detention and voiced fears that Afghan detention without judicial review could be subject to abuse.
In March, Afghanistan’s human rights commission detailed torture in prisons run by the Afghanistan’s intelligence service and police force.
Speaking to AFP, the NDS intelligence service spokesman Shafiqullah Taheri rejected the claims, saying that rights activists regularly visit detention centers.
In January, Afghan investigators said inmates at Bagram had been abused and tortured, although a report provided to the media gave few details of the allegations made by prisoners.
Interestingly former inmates and relatives of detainees currently at the prison have expressed deep concern that conditions may worsen.
A former mujahideen commander, who was arrested in 2003 and held at Bagram and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, said the Americans treat their prisoners better than the Afghans.
Ghaleb, 55, declined to give his second time but described himself as an influential elder in his hometown of Ghanikhail in eastern province Nangarhar.
“I have heard the same from many other prisoners who were tortured by government people. I have seen many prisoners who say they were much happier to have been kept in jails under the command of Americans,” he told AFP.
Abdul Waheed Wafa, analyst and director of the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University has said the move is largely symbolic and believes the Americans will still detain some high profile suspects at Bagram or at other locations.

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