Afghanistan said yesterday it had taken control of a controversial prison set up by US troops, but has yet to iron out disagreements over the fate of hundreds of inmates.
A move hailed by Kabul as a victory for sovereignty, analysts say it is largely symbolic as NATO prepares to leave Afghanistan after more than a decade fighting the Taliban, leaving Afghan security personnel in charge in late 2014.
Major questions remain over the immediate and long-term fate of more than 3,100 inmates, which include Taliban fighters and terror suspects, held at Bagram, sometimes referred to as the Guantanamo Bay of Afghanistan.
About 50 foreigners are not covered by the agreement, and hundreds of other Afghans arrested since the transfer deal was signed on March 9 are also being held at the Parwan Detention Facility, outside the Bagram US airbase north of Kabul.
Afghan officials yesterday presided over a small handover ceremony, which was marked by low attendance by US and NATO officers.
“I’m happy that today we are witnessing a glorious ceremony that marks the handing over of responsibilities of Afghan prisoners to Afghans themselves,” Afghan Acting Minister of Defense Enayatullah Nazari told the ceremony.
Afghan military police commander Safiullah Safi said that 3,182 prisoners had been formally handed over to Afghan military police, following a six-month transition.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded authority over the prison as conditional to addressing long-term Afghan-US relations and possible legal immunity for US troops — the key to troops remaining in the country after 2014.
However, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) governing the handover of the prison is not legally binding.
Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said there were disagreements over the interpretation of the deal and that more than 600 people detained since March 9 have not yet been transferred to Afghan custody.
He said that talks on Saturday between Karzai, the US ambassador and the US commander in Afghanistan had been “tough” and said the 600 yet to be transferred were being held illegally in contradiction of the MOU.
NATO spokesman Jamie Graybeal said 99 percent of detainees held before March 9 were under Afghan authority and that the transfer of the rest has been put on hold, pending concerns about the intentions of the government to fulfill the terms of the MOU.
Graybeal said the US retained the authority to capture and detain suspects, but intended to continue to transfer Afghan detainees to Afghans.
Foreign detainees will remain under US control and US advisers will also stay at the prison until March 9 next year, he added.
Afghan officials dispute NATO’s right to hold detainees, saying that anyone arrested in extenuating circumstances has to be handed over within 72 hours.
Advocacy group the Open Society Foundations last week raised concerns about holes in the March agreement, the risk of indefinite detention and voiced fears that Afghan detention without judicial review could be subject to abuse.
In March, Afghanistan’s human rights commission detailed torture in prisons run by the Afghanistan’s intelligence service and police force.
NDS intelligence service spokesman Shafiqullah Taheri rejected the claims, saying that rights activists regularly visit detention centers.
In January, Afghan investigators said inmates at Bagram had been tortured, although a report made public gave few details of the allegations made by prisoners.