In the latest blow to strained US-Afghan relations, President Hamid Karzai has announced he plans to free dozens of prisoners that the US says have committed crimes against Americans and are considered a security threat.
The US is against releasing the inmates as officials claim they have been involved in injuring or killing forces from the US and other coalition nations. Yet Karzai said that only 16 of the 88 prisoners in question will be kept in custody and tried because there is not sufficient evidence against the rest of the accused.
Karzai’s announcement has been portrayed as yet another step backward for diplomacy between the two nations. He has resisted pressure from US President Obama and other officials to sign a security agreement that would determine the nature of US military presence in country past 2014.
“These 72 detainees are dangerous criminals against whom there is strong evidence linking them to terror-related crimes, including the use of improvised explosive devices, the largest killer of Afghan civilians,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a news briefing Thursday.
The prisoner release is expected to come within days, and US officials have complained that turning over evidence against the inmates who will eventually be freed has done little to convince Karzai to change his ways.
When asked about whether releasing the inmates lowers the chance that a security deal will ultimately be signed Psaki would only say that “time will tell.”
Amil Faizi, Karzai’s spokesman, said there is no evidence against 45 of the 88 prisoners and the evidence against another 27 is too little to be enough to warrant a trial. He also compared the detention to the situation at Bagram Air Force base, where US forces have kept dozens of Afghans without charges for years.
“We cannot allow innocent Afghan citizens to be kept in detention for months and years without a trial for no reason at all,” Faizi told Reuters Thursday. “We know that unfortunately this has been happening at Bagram, but it is illegal and a violation of afghan sovereignty and we cannot allow this anymore.”
US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) spoke to reporters during a trip to Kabul last week and warned that freeing the prisoners “would have an unbelievably negative impact” on diplomacy. Graham also said that “a backlash in the US congress” is inevitable, yet he did not go so far as to threaten US withdrawal over the matter.
Yet Faizi disagreed, arguing that this issue and the biliateral security agreement are unrelated and that much of the evidence US forces have provided is not satisfactory.
“They are two separate issues. The BSA is one issue. But the Afghans detained illegally is another issue. It’s not something we can allow to happen,” he said before admitting violence has become so prevalent in Afghanistan that it would be impossible to compare the US and Afghan legal systems.
“In the countryside, in almost every house you can find a Kalashnikov,” he said. “It’s not enough to keep someone else in detention.”
The discrepancy heated up just as news of the latest civilian casualty spread throughout Afghanistan. US Marines, conducting a mission in the southern Helmand province, fatally shot a 4-year-old boy. A spokesman for the provincial government confirmed the news to reporters but refused to give details on the circumstances surrounding the child’s death.