An Afghan soldier, right, escorts a released prisoner, Mohammad Karim, following a hand over ceremony of U.S.- run prison to Afghan government in Bagram north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 10, 2012.
An Afghan soldier, right, escorts a released prisoner, Mohammad Karim, following a hand over ceremony of U.S.- run prison to Afghan government in Bagram north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 10, 2012.

BY Sharon Behn – The United States handed over control of Bagram prison to Afghan authorities on Monday. President Hamid Karzai has described as an important step towards the recognition of Afghan national sovereignty.

More than 3,000 prisoners are in Bagram.  It and  prisons around the country now are under control of Kabul.

Afghan foreign minister spokesman Janan Musazai hailed the transfer.

“Afghanistan reiterates our commitment to the humane treatment of all detainees and prisoners in accordance to our national and international obligations,” he said.

Bagram Prison, Afghanistan

But Rachel Reid, of the human rights group Open Society Afghanistan, worries about the vague regulations of preventative detention, or internment, under which she says Afghanistan can hold future prisoners.

“In our experience in other countries, it’s been very open to abuse, because what it enables a government to do is to detain people without trial and often without a lawyer,” said Reid.

Key Developments at Bagram Prison

2001: Bagram air base taken over by coalition forces
2002: Bagram becomes main US detention center in Afghanistan, two Afghan detainees die at prison, leading to abuse charges against several US troops
2009: US military review calls for overhaul of Bagram and entire Afghan prison system
2012: Deadly protests erupt after US troops inadvertently burn Korans at Bagram

Reid also says there are serious differences between American and Afghans as to what should happen to some 50 non-Afghan prisoners being held in Bagram facility.  She says least 30 of the non-Afghans being held are from neighboring Pakistan.

“The Afghans do not want the Americans to keep holding these third-country nationals in Afghanistan, as if it’s some kind of mini-Guantanamo,” she said.

Reid says Afghan officials want the Americans to either hand over the prisoners or take them out of the country.

But U.S. Deputy Public Affairs Officer Jamie Graybeal says those so-called third-country nationals were not included in the memorandum of understanding between the two countries on prison hand overs.

“Their status will be the subject of future discussions at the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of State level,” said Graybeal. “Until that time, they will remain in U.S. control.”

Graybeal added that the agreement between the United States and Afghanistan does not limit U.S. authority in capturing and detaining. He says those detainees would be handed over to Afghan authorities “in due course”.

Bagram prison had become a symbol of U.S. control of Afghanistan. Some Afghan officials had said prisoners were being abused there.

The prison hand over took place the day before the 11th anniversary of the September 11 al Qaida terrorist attacks on American soil that led to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Al Qaida had been given safe haven in Afghanistan by the then rulers, the Taliban.

International combat forces are to leave Afghanistan in 2014.

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