KABUL, Afghanistan – The U.S. military on Tuesday slammed Afghanistan for continuing to order the release of prisoners who the United States believes are dangerous, but who Afghan officials say cannot be prosecuted because authorities lack evidence.
The dispute over the prisoners at the Afghan National Detention Facility at Parwan, north of Kabul, is the latest spat between the United States and Afghanistan as the U.S.-led military coalition tries to wind down its presence here by the end of the year.
The United States has contended that of 650 prisoners still in custody at Parwan, 88 are a threat to security and should not be released. From that group, Afghanistan has decided to release 65 despite "extensive information and evidence" against them, the U.S. military said Tuesday.
"The release of these detainees is a major step backward for the rule of law in Afghanistan," the U.S. military said in a statement. "Some previously released individuals have already returned to the fight, and this subsequent release will allow dangerous insurgents back into Afghan cities and villages."
Afghan officials issued a sharp rebuttal, saying the attorney general's office and the National Directorate of Security – Afghanistan's CIA – had reviewed the U.S. information and found insufficient evidence to continue to hold the prisoners.
"According to Afghan laws there is no information gathered about these detainees to prove them guilty, so they were ordered released," Abdul Shakoor Dadras, head of the Afghan government committee responsible for the prisoner issue, said in an interview Tuesday night.
The dispute comes as Afghan President Hamid Karzai continues to delay signing a security agreement that could provide for several thousand U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014 to conduct counter-terrorism and training operations. Karzai helped negotiate the terms of the deal, which were endorsed by an assembly of elders he also handpicked, but the Afghan leader has shown signs that he will not formally approve the agreement before the April 5 election to choose his successor.
The U.S. director of national intelligence, James Clapper, told a Senate panel Tuesday that he doesn't think Karzai will sign the deal, the first such statement from a senior Obama administration official. The administration has not set a deadline for Karzai but has warned that all U.S. troops would depart Afghanistan if a deal isn't signed quickly.
The prisoner dispute has escalated over the last year since the U.S. military handed control over the detention center at Parwan to Afghan authorities.
Last month, the United States protested Afghanistan's decision to release some of the 88 detainees, citing evidence that 30% of them had wounded or killed 60 international soldiers and that more had been responsible for Afghan civilian casualties.
The U.S. accused Dadras and his Afghan Review Board of "releasing back to society dangerous insurgents who have Afghan blood on their hands."
Dadras rejected the claims, saying the United States "must trust and respect the Afghan legal system."
"We are not releasing those detainees who are disrupting the internal security of Afghanistan," he said. "The ones who are creating problems for the people of Afghanistan have never been and will never be released."
He said the 65 prisoners could be released within days and added that the remaining cases would be decided upon soon.