by Thom Kilburn
On Feb. 13, 65 prisoners were released from Afghanistan’s high security Bagram detainment facility—a move that garnered significant condemnation from U.S. officials who claim the prisoners are “dangerous insurgents”.
The U.S. embassy in Kabul said some of the former detainees were responsible for the deaths of Afghan civilians, and Afghan and NATO troops. They were part of a group of 88 men whom U.S. and NATO-led troops had arrested in raids while hunting the Taliban.
Once arrested, these suspected Taliban radicals were transported to the former U.S. military prison at Bagram located about 28 miles north of Kabul. Last year, Bagram prison, located about 28 miles north of Kabul, was officially transferred to Afghan control. It was subsequently renamed the Parwan Detention Facility.
Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai described the jail as a “Taliban-making factory”, where innocent people were “turned against their own country, against their own government.”
Karzai added: “The very presence of this… prison is against the Afghan constitution, against all Afghan laws and against the sovereignty of this country.” Karzai has also denied claims from the U.S. that the prisoners had blood on their hands.
Other government officials in Kabul insist there is not enough evidence against the former detainees, saying the cases of the 65 were thoroughly reviewed by various government groups and there was no evidence against them. It is unclear why the other 23 (of the original convicted group of 88) have remained in Parwan.
“That is why they were freed today and are on the way to their homes,” said Shokoor Dadras, a senior member of the primary review board. “Legally, we have no right to hold these people. We are studying the cases of the rest of the prisoners to see which one deserves to be punished and which one needs to be freed.”
According to a report from the BBC, the former detainees were laughing and smiling as they boarded a bus and taxis to leave the facility.
However, not everyone is celebrating the prisoners’ discharge. In a recent statement, the U.S. embassy in Kabul said, “The Government of Afghanistan’s decision to release 65 detainees from the Parwan Detention Center is deeply regrettable.” The statement contradicted the Afghan review board and asserted that “the evidence against [the detainees] was never seriously considered,” and the Afghan government now “bears responsibility.”
Particular concern was expressed by coalition commanders over the release of Mohammad Wali, who they called a “Taliban weapons expert,” and Nek Mohammad, who was linked to a number of rocket attacks on coalition soldiers.
South Carolina Republican senator Lindsey Graham deplores Afghanistan’s decision to release the supposed Taliban affiliates. Long-term supporter of the American occupation in Afghanistan, Graham demanded a halt to aid spending.
“I will be urging my colleagues to cut off all developmental aid to Afghanistan as a response until after the next election,” said Graham at a Senate hearing. “The amount of people advocating for a long-term relationship with Afghanistan is pretty small in Congress. No politician in America is going to get much blowback for just pulling out of Afghanistan.”