The Afghan government order to release 37 of 88 detainees who the US says are national security threats has been condemned by the Pentagon Monday.
The Afghan Review panel, a special government panel, ordered that the prisoners be released from the now Afghan-supervised detention facility at Bagram Airfield, in the Parwan province of Afghanistan, north of Kabul. In March, the U.S. transferred the prison over to Afghan control.
Although U.S. officials say there is enough evidence to convict the men, the president of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai called the facility a “Taliban-making factory” and reportedly told the press, “God willing, I will close Bagram.”
Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said, “ARB is releasing dangerous insurgents” and that of the 37 detainees, 17 were involved in attacks that used improvised explosive devices and seven had participated in or had knowledge of attacks on Afghan forces and coalition service members.
Of the 88 ordered released, the U.S. pushed for prosecution, saying releasing them would violate the transfer agreement and make future deals with Afghanistan doubtful.
But Abdul Shakor Dadras, a member of the Afghan panel that reviews detainee cases, said the prisoners have been detained too long without legal recourse.
He added, "I am not a judge nor a prosecutor. But I can say that the cases of these prisoners have not reached the level where a judge could hear them. We are assigned to assess them before they get to that level."
U.S. officials provided a dossier summarizing cases against the 37 detainees. Intelligence included evidence that some were experts in explosive devices, possessed grenades, mortar shells and one had a sawed-off shotgun.
A senior U.S. official said whatever evidence was presented, Dadras would dismiss it. In December, the official decided “talking to Mr. Dadras was not going to be productive” and the US representatives have not met with him since.
Dadras said he was only following Afghan law, which states he must discard any evidence collected without the presence of a defense attorney cannot be used.
The Pentagon received word Sunday that a formal order to release the detainees had been issued last week. This was not unexpected as Karzai had given instructions earlier this month to proceed with the releases.
This has created tension over a proposed security pact that would allow U.S. forces to remain in Afghanistan beyond the planned withdrawal by the end of 2014.
The agreement was endorsed last year by Afghan politicians but Karzai did not sign it, stating he wants the US to end raids against civilians and commence peace talks with the Taliban.
Karzai delayed signing the agreement and has indicated that Americans are to blame for all civilian deaths from conflict in the country.
Previously Karzai said he would sign the agreement in 2014, but it is now believed that he has no intentions of signing a deal until a new president is elected on April 5, 2014.