Afghanistan to release 72 detainees, despite U.S. concerns

Jan. 9, 2014 at 11:17 PM
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KABUL, Afghanistan, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- Seventy-two prisoners to be freed by the Afghan government are "dangerous criminals" with evidence linking them to terror-related crimes, a U.S. official says.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, responding strongly to the decision of the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to release the 72 detainees from Bagram prison, expressed U.S. concerns over the decision to release them without their cases being referred to the Afghan criminal justice system.

"As you may also know, these 72 detainees are dangerous criminals against whom there is strong evidence linking them to terror-related crimes, including the use of improvised explosive devices, the largest killer of Afghan civilians," she said in her media briefing Thursday.

Psaki said the insurgents' impending release also "undermines Afghanistan's court system and rule of law."

A statement from Karzai on the prisoner release decision following a review meeting said no evidence was available to prove they had any ties to insurgent activities.

The latest development puts further strain on U.S.-Afghan relations, which are already under pressure because of Karzai's refusal to sign the bilateral security agreement needed by the United States and NATO to decide how many of their troops are to remain in Afghanistan after the coalition forces end their combat operations at the end of this year.

Psaki reiterated the U.S. stand that it is in the interest of the Afghan people that the agreement, which has already been endorsed by the Loya Jirga, be signed promptly. Without the signed document, the Untied States may decide to leave no troops behind, which could undermine Afghan security.

U.S. officials told the Washington Post the prisoners pose a threat to both Afghan security and American service members based here, and the Afghan government's decision exposes its inability to cooperate even on the most grave matters.

The Karzai statement said the decision was taken after a "thorough and serious review of the prisoners."

The Post said U.S. officials had provided the Afghan government enormous amount of evidence to call for at the minimum their formal trials.

However, Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi was quoted as saying the the U.S. side "didn't have any proof against them."

Last week, a group of visiting U.S. Senators had urged to stop the planned release of the prisoners.

Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina had informed Karzai that releasing them would seriously damage Afghan-U.S. relations.

The Bagram Prison near Kabul, where the prisoners are kept, had been a U.S. prison before it was handed over to the Afghan government last year.

Graham told reporters in Kabul the prisoner release would also violate existing agreements to deal with them.

"There is much evidence to suggest a wrongdoing," Graham said. "Over 60 coalition forces have been killed as a result of actions by these 88 and 57 Afghans have been killed by the actions of these 88."

The prisoners, believed by the United States to be members of the Taliban or related militant groups, were captured by Afghan and U.S.-led forces as part of their counter-terrorism efforts.

It was not clear how the prisoner release decision would impact the impasse over the bilateral agreement.

The New York Times said U.S. officials were cautious in saying the move is not tied to the security deal.

Karzai's growing differences with the United States may also have partly been responsible to free the prisoners, one of his advisers indicated to the Times. The adviser also said an official at the review meeting had told Karzai the prisoners had been tortured in prison.

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