Transfer of US prison to Afghans delayed again

AP News
Posted: Mar 09, 2013 12:30 PM

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The long-awaited transfer of the U.S. detention center in Afghanistan was delayed once again Saturday after a deal struck between the two governments broke down before the planned handover ceremony.

The delay suggests that the two sides have yet to resolve thorny issues such as whether Afghans can be held without trial and whether the U.S. will have the power to block the release of detainees it considers particularly dangerous. It also throws a pall over ongoing negotiations for a bilateral security agreement that would govern the presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after the current combat mission ends in 2014.

As recently as Friday morning, Afghan workers at the Defense Ministry were arranging transport for dignitaries and journalists to attend Saturday's ceremony at the detention center adjoining the Bagram Air Field, a U.S. base about an hour outside of the capital. The Parwan Detention Center houses Afghans and some foreigners picked up by U.S. forces.

Currently, there is an Afghan administrator of the prison, but the Americans have power to veto the release of detainees. The prisoners held under American authority do not have the right to a trial because the U.S. considers them detainees held as part of an ongoing conflict.

Then on Saturday morning, organizers told journalists that the ceremony had been canceled without giving a reason.

U.S. military officials said the ceremony was called off because they could not finalize the agreement with the Afghans.

"We continue to work out the details on the transfer of the Detention Facility in Parwan to the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan," Jamie Graybeal, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, said in an email. He said that the U.S. remains committed to transferring the facility and all Afghan detainees.

"We intend to proceed with the transfer once we have reached full agreement," Graybeal said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with U.S. commander Gen. Joseph Dunford late Saturday on the issue and Karzai's office said that they fully expect all the details to be worked out so that the transfer ceremony can be rescheduled for the coming week.

"Details will include respect for the national sovereignty of Afghanistan in the detention facility, and all technical and legal rights of the detainees," Karzai's office said in a statement. The statement said that Dunford also committed to transferring authority for the prison during this coming week. Graybeal, the U.S. forces spokesman, said he did not have information on the meeting and could not confirm if Dunford had made such a commitment.