KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan's president has accused U.S. forces of continuing to capture and hold Afghans in violation of an agreement signed earlier this year between the two countries.
Hamid Karzai's statement late Sunday came at a sensitive time — just days after the beginning of negotiations on a bilateral security agreement that will govern the U.S. military presence in the country after the majority of troops draw down in 2014. Karzai's critics say he frequently strikes populist, nationalist stances that give him leverage in talks with the Americans.
In the statement, the Afghan president said some detainees are still being held by U.S. forces even though Afghan judges have ruled that they be released. He also decried the continued arrest of Afghans by U.S. forces.
Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi on Monday told reporters that more than 70 detainees continue to be held by the Americans despite being ordered released by Afghan courts.
The two countries signed the detainee transfer pact in March but the handover of detention facilities has been slowed by the U.S., which has argued both that the Afghans are not ready to take over their management and insisted that the Afghan government agree to hold without trial some detainees that the U.S. deems too dangerous to release.
“These acts are completely against the agreement that has been signed between Afghanistan and the U.S. president,” said Karzai's statement and urged Afghan officials to “take serious measures” to push for taking over all responsibility for the detention center on the edge of the main U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan.
Detention without trial, often called administrative detention, is against Afghan law, said Faizi, the Afghan president's spokesman.
“There is nothing by the name of ‘administration detention’ in our laws, yet the U.S. is insisting that there are a number of people who, while there is not enough evidence against them, are a threat to U.S. national security,” he said.
Faizi also said that Karzai had agreed in a video conference call with President Barack Obama earlier this fall to give the Americans two months to figure out an alternative to detention without trial, until after the U.S. presidential election. This grace period has now expired, said the spokesman.
The detainee transfer deal was one of two pacts that were key to a broad but vague strategic partnership agreement signed by Kabul and Washington in May that set forth an American commitment to Afghanistan for years to come. The second pact covers “special operations” such as certain American raids and other conduct on the battlefield.
A third detailed pact — dubbed the bilateral security agreement — is now under negotiation, and covers logistical and legal questions such as the size and number of bases and the immunity of U.S. forces from prosecution.
The two countries officially opened negotiations on the bilateral security agreement last week, and have given themselves a year to sign the pact.
Karzai is under pressure to give an appearance of upholding Afghan sovereignty — which he has repeatedly claimed to champion — without putting so many restrictions on U.S. forces that an agreement becomes impossible.
It is believed that the United States wants to retain up to 20,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014 to train and support Afghan forces and go after extremists and groups, including al-Qaida. Afghanistan now has about 66,000 U.S. troops and it remains unclear how many will be withdrawn next year as they continue to hand over security to Afghan forces. The foreign military mission is evolving from combat to advising, assisting and training Afghan forces.
The bilateral security agreement will set up a legal framework needed to operate military forces in Afghanistan, including taxation, visas and other technical issues. It does not need to be ratified by Congress. The U.S. has similar agreements with dozens of countries. In Iraq, a similar deal fell apart after U.S. officials were unable to reach an agreement with the Iraqis on legal issues and troop immunity that would have allowed a small training and counterterrorism force to remain there.
Karzai said last month that the issue of soldiers being protected from prosecution in Afghanistan could be a problem in the talks. He has said Afghanistan might demand prosecutions in some cases.
The issue took on new meaning following the case of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales charged in the attacks on Afghan civilians in two villages in southern Afghanistan earlier this year. The American soldier faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder in the March 11 attacks against civilians. A preliminary hearing was held this week at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.