US quietly transfers 12 Afghanistan prisoners
WASHINGTON: The Obama administration has quietly repatriated a dozen detainees from a small US military prison in Afghanistan, moving a modest step closer toward winding down the country’s controversial post-9/11 detainee system.
A French national, a Kuwaiti and 10 Pakistani detainees were sent back to their home countries last month from the Parwan prison, the defense official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The move left 38 non-Afghan detainees at the prison.
The remaining detainees include Yemeni, Tunisian and more Pakistani nationals, and a Russian who US is also considering trying in a military or civilian court. The Defense Department notified Congress of the transfer 10 days beforehand, the official added.
President Barack Obama’s administration faces legal difficulties at the Parwan center similar to those posed by the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In both cases, US authorities suspect detainees have terror links but often lack sufficient evidence to try them in court and are reluctant to release them.
The Obama administration is trying to shut down the Guantanamo and Parwan prisons as it seeks to draw a line under the extraordinary legal measures adopted in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
The move at Parwan came amid controversy over a prisoner swap involving the release of a US soldier captured by Afghan insurgents and five Taliban militants held at Guantanamo.
Bowe Bergdahl was freed on May 31 but some lawmakers have slammed the White House for agreeing to the transfer of the five Taleban figures.
With the United States and NATO allies withdrawing most of their combat troops from Afghanistan this year, Washington handed over control of Parwan prison to the Kabul government under an agreement. But US authorities still help oversee the cases of foreign, non-Afghan detainees.
The conditions for the 12 detainees transferred last month remain unclear. Obama, in a letter to Congress released on Thursday, informed US lawmakers that about 38 non-Afghan prisoners remained at the Parwan detention center outside of Kabul, down from around 50 a few months ago.
The transfers, which are not publicly disclosed, underscore the challenges the Obama administration faces in shutting down Parwan and the larger US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which has been widely criticized by human rights groups since being populated in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Many of the detainees have not been charged with a crime, but the release of any military detainees has the potential to intensify the political backlash the Obama administration is facing over its handling of suspected militants captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere since 2001.
White House officials have sought to rebuff criticism of the decision last month to send five senior Taleban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay to Qatar in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl, a US soldier held by Taleban-linked militants in Pakistan.
The Obama administration is slowly moving to transfer some inmates out of Guantanamo Bay, where about 150 inmates remain. Obama has renewed promises to close the prison despite long-standing congressional opposition.