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US handover of Afghan prisoners to Kabul increases pressure on UK
Washington has sealed plans for the much-delayed handover of the last Afghan prisoners it holds on Afghan soil, removing a major irritant to ties with Kabul and leaving the UK as the only foreign power still jailing Afghans in their own country.
Britain halted transfers to Afghan jails over torture concerns, and after Monday's ceremony to give Afghanistan full control of the Bagram prison, could face greater pressure from Afghan president Hamid Karzai over that stance.
The Afghan leader has long been an outspoken opponent of foreign-run jails that he sees as a serious violation of national sovereignty, but until now had focused most of his attention and political firepower on getting US forces to relinquish their huge prison near Kabul.
Dozens of detainees captured by the British military may be his next target. The men have been in legal limbo in a Helmand prison since the high court blocked a determined attempt by the Ministry of Defence to transfer them to Afghan jails, when evidence was presented that they could face torture there.
The prisoners are not being tried in either the UK or Afghan judicial systems, but British commanders are not willing to release men they consider dangerous militants. Karzai demanded their transfer after the ruling, but since then the UN and an Afghan government delegation have both found evidence of torture in some Afghan jails.
The Bagram jail, near the airbase of the same name, became notorious among Afghans after US abuse led to the deaths of at least two prisoners. The US military also ran a secret prison there which Afghans dubbed the "black jail", the International Committee of the Red Cross told to the BBC in 2010.
After years of demands from Karzai for the transfer of the jail, a deal was reached a year ago to start a slow handover, to be completed in September 2012. But the US and Afghanistan clashed repeatedly over the long-term detention of some of the men captured by Nato forces during a decade of fighting.
A new handover date was set for early March, during a visit by US defence secretary Chuck Hagel. But days before Hagel landed, Karzai told the opening of Afghanistan's parliament that some of the men held by US forces were innocent and he would free them when they had been handed over. Shortly afterwards the transfer ceremony was cancelled.
US officials have said they detained some prisoners based on classified intelligence they cannot share, but that they do not hold anyone without cause. The handover of Bagram prison probably means that the Afghan government has agreed to extend the US provision of "administrative detention" for cases where classified evidence cannot be presented in court or would not result in a conviction. Afghanistan has not previously used the system, which has been criticised by human rights groups.
The US will probably continue to hold some foreign prisoners captured in Afghanistan, as the focus of Karzai's objections has been detention of his own citizens, Afghan and Nato sources have said.
[Source: By Emma Graham-Harrison, The Guardian, London, 24Mar13]
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