US hands prison over to Afghans

2013-03-25 14:03
Afghan National Army soldiers peek through the gate of the Parwan Detention Facility after the US military gave control of its last detention facility to Afghan authorities. (Anja Niedringhaus, AP)

Afghan National Army soldiers peek through the gate of the Parwan Detention Facility after the US military gave control of its last detention facility to Afghan authorities. (Anja Niedringhaus, AP)

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Bagram - The US military gave control of its last detention facility in Afghanistan to Kabul on Monday, a year after the two sides initially agreed on the transfer.

The handover of Parwan Detention Facility ends a bitter chapter in American relations with Afghanistan's mercurial president, Hamid Karzai, who demanded control of the prison as a matter of national sovereignty.

The dispute threw a pall over the ongoing negotiations for a bilateral security agreement that would govern the presence of US forces in Afghanistan after 2014.

Top US commander in Afghanistan General Joseph Dunford handed over Parwan, located near the US-run Bagram military base north of Kabul, at a ceremony there after signing an agreement with Afghan Defence Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi.

"The transfer of the detention facility is an important part of the overall transition of security lead to Afghan National Security Forces. This ceremony highlights an increasingly confident, capable, and sovereign Afghanistan," Dunford said.

An initial agreement to hand over Parwan was signed a year ago, but efforts to follow through on it constantly stumbled over American concerns that the Afghan government would release prisoners that it considered dangerous.

A key hurdle was a ruling by an Afghan judicial panel holding that administrative detention, the practice of holding someone without formal charges, violated the country's laws.

The US argued that international law allowed administrative detentions and also argued that it could not risk the passage of some high-value detainees to the notoriously corrupt Afghan court system.

An initial deadline for the full handover passed last September and another earlier this month.

The formula for how the two sides resolved this dilemma has not been made public.

Officials say that the Afghan government will be able to invoke a procedure that ensures prisoners considered dangerous will not be released from the detention centre.

According to a senior US official in Washington, the agreement also includes a provision that allows the US and Kabul to work together to resolve any differences.

The official lacked authorisation to discuss the details of the agreement publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Detention centre

The detention centre houses about 3 000 prisoners and the majority are already under Afghan control.

The United States had not handed over about 100, and some of those under American authority do not have the right to a trial because the US considers them part of an ongoing conflict.

There are also about three dozen non-Afghan detainees, including Pakistanis and other nationals that will remain in American hands.

The exact number and nationality of those detainees has never been made public.

A new agreement, or memorandum of understanding, was signed at the ceremony by Dunford and Khan, but the US military said it will not be made public. The agreement supplants one signed last March, which had been made public.

The US military said in a statement that the new agreement "affirms their mutual commitment to the lawful and humane treatment of detainees and their intention to protect the people of Afghanistan and coalition forces," an apparent reference to the release of detainees deemed to be dangerous.

The handover

The handover should also open the way for a resumption of talks for a bilateral security agreement that would govern the presence of US forces in Afghanistan after 2014.

It is part of an ongoing effort to gradually shift control of the country's security to the Afghans as the US and allies move toward the full withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014.

There are about 100 000 coalition troops in Afghanistan, including about 66 000 from the United States.

American officials have made no final decision on how many troops might remain in Afghanistan after 2014, although they have said as many as many as 12 000 US and coalition forces could remain.

The US started to hold detainees at Bagram Air Field in early 2002. For several years, prisoners were kept at a former Soviet aircraft machine plant converted into a lockup.

In 2009, the US opened a new detention facility next door. The number of detainees incarcerated at that prison, renamed the Parwan Detention Facility, went from about 1 100 in September 2010 to more than 3 000.

After Monday's handover, it was renamed the Afghan National Detention Facility at Parwan and the US military said it would provide the Afghan army with advisers and $39m in funding.

The US has spent about a quarter of a billion dollars to build the Bagram facility along with Kabul's main prison located in the capital.

Read more on:    hamid karzai  |  us  |  afghanistan

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