Afghanistan review board says Bagram prisoners to go free in spite of U.S. warning

Afghan detainees wait to be released during a ceremony to hand over Bagram prison to the Afghanistan government at Bagram Prison facilities, March 25, 2012. Getty

Last Updated Jan 6, 2014 4:17 AM EST

KABUL -- Afghanistan will release 88 prisoners as planned even though the United States considers them dangerous and wants them to remain in detention, according to the head of the board reviewing their cases.

The prisoners are being held at a jail at the Bagram air base north of Kabul. The United States only recently transferred the prison to Afghan control after it had become a serious source of tension with the Afghan government.

President Hamid Karzai instructed Afghan intelligence officials to provide the review board with more evidence against the prisoners, after the United States said there was proof of their involvement in the killing of foreign troops and they posed a serious threat to security.

But the head of the review board, Abdul Shakor Dadras, said the evidence did not warrant keeping the prisoners any longer.

“There is not enough evidence to show these 88 prisoners wrongdoings, and we have already taken our decision” to free the men, Dadras told CBS News' Mukhtar Ahmad on Monday.

Dadras, whose three-man panel has the final say on the prisoners' fate thanks to a mandate from the president's office, said the cases could be reviewed again in the future if "enough evidence" emerged to try them in a court.

He told Ahmad no date had been set for the 88 prisoners' release.

 The disagreement over the prisoners is a further strain on Afghan-U.S. relations already seriously soured by Karzai's refusal to sign a bilateral security deal to shape the U.S. military presence after most foreign troops leave this year.

U.S. senators in Afghanistan last week pressed the president to stop the release, warning it would irreparably damage relations with the United States.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., warned the release would have an “unbelievably negative impact” on the relationship between the two countries.

The planned release has also alarmed many senior Afghan security officials, who often see released prisoners return to the battlefield.

U.S. officials say about 40 percent of the prisoners were involved in attacks in which 57 Afghan civilians and members of the Afghan security forces were killed or wounded.

Thirty percent of the prisoners had taken part in direct attacks that killed or wounded 60 members of Afghanistan's U.S.-led NATO force.

Karzai's office did not immediately comment.

A spokesman for the top commander in Afghanistan warned last week that the Afghans were about to release "a number of dangerous individuals who are legitimate threats and for whom there is strong evidence supporting prosecution or further investigation."

  "We can try to make the case why these people are dangerous, why they should not be let out and allowed to return to the battlefield,” Brookings Institution senior fellow Michael O’Hanlon told CBS News correspondent David Martin. "But if the Afghans don't want to listen, in the end, it's their country and we no longer have special privileges.”

The disagreement comes as Presiden Karzai continues to refuse to sign an agreement that would allow U.S. and NATO forces to remain in Afghanistan after 2014. White House press secretary Jay Carney said last week that without an agreement, the U.S. would have no choice but to pull out all troops this year.

"We need it promptly. We need it, there is not time here.  We cannot, as has been suggested, wait for further developments in Afghanistan,” he said.


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