US transfers Bagram prison to Afghanistan, questions remain

US transfers Bagram prison to Afghanistan, questions remain

BAGRAM, Afghanistan
US transfers Bagram prison to Afghanistan, questions remain

Afghan National Army soldier escorts newly freed prisoner after a ceremony handing over the Bagram prison dubbed as the country’s ‘Guantanamo Bay,’ to Afghan authorities, at the US airbase north of Kabul. REUTERS photo

The United States has formally transferred control over a controversial prison in Afghanistan, dubbed the country’s “Guantanamo Bay,” to the Afghan government, but disagreements remain over the fate of hundreds of inmates.

Bagram prison has become an ominous symbol for Afghans, a place where harsh interrogation methods and sleep deprivation were used routinely in its early years, and where two Afghan detainees died in 2002 after being beaten by U.S. soldiers. Bagram, also known as the Parwan Detention Facility, has been the focus of controversy in the past, but never had the notoriety of the prisons at Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib in Iraq. In February 2012, Bagram was at the center of a storm of controversy over the burning of copies of the Quran there by members of the U.S. Army. The facility had been built by the Soviets as an aircraft machine shop during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

50 foreign prisoners

Kabul has hailed the transfer as a victory for sovereignty, as NATO prepares to hand over full national security to the Afghan government and withdraw its combat troops by the end of 2014. Analysts, however, say the move is more symbolic than substantial, and human rights advocates have raised concerns about abuses of administrative detention.

Major questions remain over the immediate and long-term fate of the more than 3,000 inmates at the prison, who include Taliban fighters and terrorism suspects. The U.S. recently suspended the transfer of new detainees apparently because of disagreements with Kabul, which has questioned the long-term detention of suspects without charge after their capture. The U.S. reportedly fears that Afghan authorities may simply let some detainees go, and appears reluctant to turn over all the suspects it holds, the Associated Press reported. The U.S. will also continue to hold about 50 non-Afghan prisoners that are not covered by the agreement on a small part of the facility that they will still administer. They are thought to include Pakistanis and other foreign nationals either captured in Afghanistan or transferred to Bagram from other wars, such as that it Iraq. Abdul Waheed Wafa, analyst and director of the Afghanistan Centre 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.

Torture claims revealed

Advocacy group the Open Society Foundations last week raised concerns about holes in the transfer agreement, including the risk of indefinite detention, and voiced fears that Afghan detention without judicial review could be subject to abuse, according to Agence France-Presse.

In March, Afghanistan’s human rights commission detailed torture in prisons run by the Afghan intelligence service and police force. Afghan intelligence service spokesman Shafiqullah Taheri rejected the claims, saying that rights activists regularly visit detention centers.

The disagreement is not expected to impact military operations around Afghanistan, but it is an indication of the tense relations between the U.S.-led NATO military coalition and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Taliban ‘ready’ for ceasefire

LONDON – Reuters

Some Taliban figures are ready to negotiate a comprehensive peace deal involving a long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, but will not accept Hamid Karzai’s government, the Guardian reported yesterday. Citing a report to be published by the Royal United Services Institute, the Taliban was determined to make a decisive break with al-Qaeda as part of a settlement and was open to negotiation about education for girls. “The Taliban would be open to negotiating a ceasefire, and also as a bridge between confidence-building measures,” the report said. The institute said its report was based on interviews with four unnamed Taliban figures, two of whom were ministers in the former Taliban government and are still close to the inner circle of leadership.