Freedom Watch

Afghans Demand US Hand Over Its Major Battlefield Prison

November 20, 2012

From Wired

Original article available here

The U.S. military has promised to hand over control of its largest battlefield jail to the Afghan government — eventually. The Afghan government has decided it’s waited long enough.

For years, the U.S. has said it plans to give the Afghans control of the mega-jail it constructed on the outskirts of Bagram Air Field to house the suspected insurgents it captures. In March, after numerous delays, the military and the Afghan government inked a deal to relinquish control of the so-called Detention Facility in Parwan within six months. Eight months later, it hasn’t happened, displeasing President Hamid Karzai.

Karzai has ordered his aides to implement the “full Afghanization” of the detention center, blasting the U.S. for continuing to detain Afghans whom Afghan courts have ordered released. “These acts are completely against the agreement that has been signed between Afghanistan and the U.S. president,” reads a statement from Karzai’s office, which goes on to urge “all required actions for full Afghanization of Bagram prison affairs and its complete transfer of authority to Afghans.”

The Pentagon says that remains the plan, but the hangup is on the Afghan side. “In late August, after the majority of detainees had been transferred [to Afghan control], we paused transfers while we worked with the Afghans to clarify their plans for how detainees will be held in the future,” says Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman. But it appears that whenever the U.S. will actually finish handing over the prison, “we are restarting the transfer of detainees whom we have mutually assessed should be prosecuted by the Afghans.” A few dozen Afghan detainees remain at Parwan.

The Detention Facility at Parwan has been a star-crossed project during its four-year existence. In February, the military inadvertently burned Korans taken from the detention center, which sparked deadly riots across Afghanistan. This spring, a Pentagon inspector general report found construction at Parwan to be so shoddy that the door locks at the $60 million prison were “incapable of locking either manually or electronically.” All this occurred at a detention center constructed entirely to remove the stigma of torture that had earlier taken place at the old Bagram jail — except that human rights groups still suspect torture has occurred at the newer Parwan prison.

The U.S. still places some of the detainees it captures in Afghanistan at Parwan. That was always the plan — except, under the March accord, the Afghans were supposed to be the stewards of those detainees by now. A September New York Times story suggested that the reason the U.S. paused the Parwan transfer was due to uneasiness over Afghan courts rapidly letting the detainees out of detention. (There are some non-Afghan detainees at Parwan, but they don’t seem to be at the core of Karzai’s objections.) Meanwhile, the U.S. has let out contracts to expand the very prison it says it seeks to hand over.

It’s unclear what Karzai can do to actually take over the detention center. But the U.S. has just entered into talks for a post-2014 military presence in Afghanistan, which gives the Afghan president a fair amount of leverage.