Sat, Jan 07, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Karzai demands US hand over Afghan prisoners

TONGUE-IN-CHEEK:The Afghan president said that keeping Afghan citizens in jail without trial violated the constitution and international human rights conventions

AP, KABUL

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has demanded that the US detention center at Bagram Air Base be handed over to Afghan control within a month, along with all Afghan citizens held by the coalition troops across the nation.

A presidential statement on Thursday said that keeping Afghan citizens imprisoned without trial violates the country’s constitution, as well as international human rights conventions.

The prison, inside the sprawling US base at Bagram north of Kabul, abuts a well-known public detention center known as Parwan, which is run jointly by Afghan authorities and the US military.

It is unclear how many detainees are being held at the US facility. Human rights groups claim that detainees have been menaced, forced to strip naked and kept in solitary confinement in windowless cells.

A statement from Karzai’s office said he issued instructions to a commission consisting of the ministers of defense, interior and justice, as well as other top government and judicial officials, “to complete their job regarding the handing over of the [Bagram] prison and other prisoners who are held by foreign forces. “The work should be completed within a month,” it said.

The US-led NATO coalition is gradually handing over responsibility for security to the Afghan police and army. The process is scheduled to be completed in 2014, when most foreign troops are scheduled to be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

Karzai’s demands are the most recent in a series of exercises in political brinksmanship by the president, as he tries to bolster his negotiating position ahead of renewed talks on a Strategic Partnership Document with the US that will determine the US role in Afghanistan after 2014.

Among the conditions that Karzai has set is an end to night raids by international troops and complete Afghan control over detainees.

Karzai is walking a tightrope. Although he routinely plays to --anti-US sentiment in Afghanistan, he needs US military and financial strength to back his weak government as it battles the Taliban insurgency.

The CIA’s infamous secret network of “black site” interrogation centers is apparently now gone, but suspected terrorists in Afghanistan are being held and interrogated for weeks at temporary sites, including one run by elite special operations forces at Bagram Air Base. The detainees include those suspected of top roles in the Taliban, al-Qaeda or other militant groups.

Also on Thursday, three NATO service members were killed in an explosion in the south of the country, the coalition said. It did not provide any other details about the incident.

Gunmen also shot dead a local government official on his way to a mosque in southern Afghanistan. Hundreds of Afghan government officials have been killed in recent years as the Taliban pursues a sweeping assassination campaign seeking to weaken confidence in Karzai’s administration and discourage people from joining the government.

Haji Fazel Mohammad was shot on his way to evening prayers on Wednesday in the volatile district of Sangin in Helmand Province, the governor’s office said. The attackers escaped.

The Taliban’s assassination campaign has also hit senior figures.

In September, a suicide attacker with a bomb in his turban killed former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who led a government council seeking a political settlement with the insurgents. The assassin was posing as a Taliban peace emissary.

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