Afghan clerics to U.S.: Turn over your prisons

Afghan President Hamid Karzai gestures toward a journalist, not pictured, at the end of his press conference at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Feb. 26, 2012. AP Photo

(AP) KABUL, Afghanistan - A council of Afghanistan's top religious leaders on Friday called on the U.S. to end night searches and hand over its prisons, saying that if Afghans had been in charge, Muslim holy books from a detention center library would never have been burned at an American base.

In a statement issued after a meeting with President Hamid Karzai, the religious leaders strongly condemned the Feb. 20 incident, which sparked six days of deadly protests. During the demonstrations, six U.S. troops were killed by Afghan security forces or militants disguised in their uniforms.

Control over detainees and night raids are the two most contentious issues in a strategic partnership document that Washington and Kabul are negotiating. The council statement is a boost for the Afghan government's position. The document would govern U.S. operations in Afghanistan after 2014 when the U.S.-led military coalition ends its combat mission.

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The pact is expected to provide for several thousand U.S. troops to stay in the country to train Afghan forces and help with counterterrorism operations. It will outline the legal status of those forces in Afghanistan, their operating rules and where they will be based.

A major stumbling point arose when Karzai demanded control over detainees and an end to the unpopular night raids by U.S. troops as a condition of signing the pact. The U.S. has said that night raids are effective in capturing insurgents. The Obama administration also has said that the Afghan judicial system is not yet capable of taking over responsibility for dangerous battlefield detainees.

The Korans and other Islamic texts that U.S. military officials said had extremist inscriptions were removed from the library at the Parwan Detention Facility and then taken to the burn pit at Bagram Air Field, which adjoins the prison.

The clerics blamed the incident on poor administration of the detention facility.

"This is an unforgivable act. It's antihuman," the clerics said. "Those who are behind this crime should be prosecuted as soon as possible."

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