Words by Bridget Foster.
In a move seen by US military officials as “a major step backward in further developing the rule of law in Afghanistan”, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered the release of 37 prisoners that the US and NATO consider “highly dangerous.” Officials received notice on Sunday and though the names of the prisoners have not been released, American officials say there is ample evidence connecting the men to acts that caused the death of Americans as well as Afghans.
The Obama Administration had expected that the men would be brought to trial as part of the agreement reached last March when control of the prison at Bagram Air Base was turned over to the Afghan government. However, Karzai has seemed bent on releasing rather than trying the 3,000 detainees in the facility….of the 760 cases reviewed by his government so far, 648 have resulted in release. Karzai has been critical of the prison, referring to it as a “Taliban-making factory where Afghans are tortured into hating their country” and has vowed to close it.
The action is particularly troublesome to the US government as they continue to negotiate with Karzai to sign an agreement that would allow as many as 10,000 American troops to remain in the country at the end of this year. The security agreement would also allow the US to keep bases in Afghanistan for drone aircraft to monitor nuclear weapon activity in Pakistan. Karzai insists that the agreement should not be signed until after the Afghan presidential election in April. According to the New York Times report, Karzai said he wants to be sure the agreement is a balanced one.
The 37 prisoners in question are part of a group of 88 that have been scheduled for release, but are still being held at the Parwan Detention Facility. A spokesman for Karzai told officials that a review of the 88 cases revealed no evidence of wrongdoing for 45 of the men and insufficient evidence for 27. Another sixteen would not be released until their cases undergo further review.
According to US military officials familiar with the cases, evidence of guilt includes fingerprints found on the inside of homemade bombs, explosive residue found on clothing and DNA matches. Files show that the 37 in question include commanders of insurgent groups, Taliban foot soldiers, and experts in making IEDs. Some of the men were alleged to be in possession of AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades when they caught.
To the dismay of American officials, Abdul Shakor, the chief of the Afghan review commission, has dismissed all evidence presented, including a lab analysis that found residue from chloride chemical compounds used in making explosives. Citing Afghan law, Shakor said he could not accept evidence that was collected without a defense lawyer present and that he did not trust evidence collected years after a suspect was detained.
In spite of US protests, the 37 men are expected to be released within one or two days.