Monday, November 29, 1999

U.S. military backs Karzai prisoner review

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The U.S. military on Wednesday backed a decree by President Hamid Karzai which called for the cases of all prisoners in Afghanistan to be reviewed and said no detainee in U.S. detention would be held under doubtful evidence.Last week, Karzai ordered a review of all prisoners being held in Afghan jails and called for the release of those being held without sufficient evidence or on false information.The declaration was seen as the president's first step towards implementing one of several recommendations made at a peace "jirga", or conference, earlier this month, aimed at bringing an end to a war now almost nine years old.Among several other proposals, the jirga called on the Afghan government and foreign troops in the country "as a gesture of goodwill" to free those prisoners being held "on inaccurate information or unsubstantiated allegations".While Karzai's decree only referred to the roughly 15,000 prisoners being held at Afghan jails, the deputy commander for U.S. detention operations in Afghanistan said the review would also apply to U.S. military prisons."U.S. and Afghan goals are absolutely aligned. We will not hold detainees based on unreliable information or sources," said Brigadier General Mark Martins."If we must detain, that decision is based on all the information and evidence and intelligence in our and our Afghan partners' possession," he told a news conference at the NATO headquarters in Kabul.There are around 1,000 prisoners being held at foreign military detention centres in Afghanistan, Martins said, including more than 800 in a new purpose-built jail at the U.S. Bagram Air Base north of the capital.Last week, four Afghan prisoners held at Bagram went on trial before an Afghan judge with Afghan defence lawyers, the first time any detainee at the jail has faced trial.The trial reflects a shift in U.S. policy after years of international criticism of U.S. detention procedures.NEW SYSTEMUnder President Barack Obama, Washington set up a new system last year, detention review boards, allowing Bagram detainees' hearings to contest their detention and "personal representatives" from the military who are not lawyers.Martins said since January, 114 detainees had been released through this process and another 25 were to be released soon, adding Karzai's committee set up to review prisoners' cases may attend the review boards.Bagram jail, set up to hold prisoners from the campaign against the Taliban after the Sept. 11 attacks, was located for eight years in an ex-Soviet aircraft hangar, but this year it was replaced by a $60 million prison Washington says meets international standards.The old jail had become a symbol of detainee abuse for Afghans after U.S. troops beat to death two prisoners in 2002.In January, the U.S. military and the Afghan government agreed the prison should be transferred to the Afghans from 2011, but Martins said there would still be U.S. military officials in place once the handover took place and that the transition would be "conditions based".(Editing by David Fox)(For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see:

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