By GRAHAM BOWLEY
Published: September 9, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan — One of the centerpieces of the hand-over of American control to Afghan authority encountered a last-minute unexpected obstacle on Sunday when the United States paused the transfer of the final couple of dozen Afghan detainees at the Parwan detention facility.
The Afghan government said it was going ahead with what PresidentHamid Karzai’s office had characterized as a “splendid” transfer ceremony scheduled for Monday atBagram Air Base, where the Parwan prison is, to mark the shift in detention operations. But the ceremony looked almost certain to take place without all of the roughly 3,000 Afghan detainees having been turned over, which was central to the memorandum of understanding struck between the two countries on March 9.
That agreement, signed at Mr. Karzai’s demand, set out a six-month transfer deadline and reflected rising assertions of sovereignty by the president and the Afghan government.
On Sunday, however, the United States said it was putting on hold the transfer of about 30 Afghan detainees because of doubts about the government’s commitment to other parts of the memorandum of understanding.
“Some 99 percent of the detainees captured before 9 March have already been transferred to Afghan authority, but we have paused the transfer of the remaining detainees until our concerns are met,” Jamie Graybeal, a spokesman for the American-led coalition in Afghanistan, said in a statement.
The coalition would not say what its concerns were, but some Afghan officials have raised objections to the system of no-trial detention that the United States insisted the Afghan government embrace at Parwan. This system allows the continued imprisonment of wartime prisoners deemed too difficult to prosecute but too dangerous to release.
The latest frictions seemed to center on a meeting between Gen. John R. Allen, the top commander of the coalition of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and Mr. Karzai at the presidential palace on Saturday.
At the meeting, which was also attended by James Cunningham, the American ambassador, General Allen sought assurances from Mr. Karzai that he would honor all parts of the memorandum of understanding. A local news agency, Pajhwok, cited an unidentified official who said a “verbal clash erupted” between the two men.
The United States-led coalition rebutted the report in a statement on Sunday, saying “the unnamed source in the story provided a massive distortion of the reality of what occurred in this conversation between the president and General Allen.”
Immediately after the meeting on Saturday, Mr. Karzai’s office issued a terse statement that seemed to point to at least a forceful exchange about the detainees and the facility, saying, “Any delay in its hand-over is considered a breach of Afghan national sovereignty.”
Another issue of contention between the coalition and the Afghan government has been the hundreds of prisoners detained by American forces since March, who are not directly covered by the memorandum of understanding. In addition, around 50 foreign prisoners, mostly Pakistani, are still under American control at Parwan, but Afghan officials have said that was not a major issue.
Some of the more recently detained Afghans are already being transferred, but many are likely to remain under American control for some time.
Another major issue is how quickly newly arrested Afghans should be surrendered once they are picked up off the battlefield. At a news conference on Sunday, Janan Mosazai, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said all Afghan detainees would be turned over to the Afghan side “within a maximum of 72 hours” — something that might not be acceptable to American commanders.
In an interview, Mr. Mosazai said the transfer as envisioned under the March agreement would take place in full on Monday despite the statements from the coalition. Asked whether the government supported the system of no-trial detention, he said, “Afghanistan remains strongly committed to responsibly taking over control of all detainees at Bagram in accordance with Afghan law and our international obligations under the Geneva Convention, including Additional Protocol II.” In the past, he has said that protocol authorized administrative detention.
American officials said neither General Allen nor Lt. Gen. Keith M. Huber, the commander of the American side of the detention facility, would attend the transfer ceremony at Bagram. Instead, General Huber’s deputy, Brig. Gen. VeraLinn Jamieson of the Air Force, was scheduled to represent the coalition.
Rachel Reid, a senior policy adviser on Afghanistan for the Open Society Foundations, an advocacy organization that last week published a report on the hand-over of the prison, said the last-minute disagreement was not surprising, given that the two countries had ignored crucial differences in their rush to reach an agreement in March.
“The Afghan government is divided over whether internment is legal, and that is giving the Americans pause,” she said.
She said that the relationship between the two sides was in flux, and that the fact that the Afghan government could raise objections to a previously agreed-upon memorandum of understanding showed that the United States was losing leverage as coalition forces withdrew.
Tags: US, NATO, Occupation, Taliban, Pakistan, terrorist, Punjabi, ISI, Al, Qaeda, CIA
Location: Afghanistan (load item map)
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