March 9, 2013
U.S. Cancels Transfer of Bagram Prison to Afghans
By ROD NORDLAND
KABUL, Afghanistan -- A ceremony in which the American military had planned to hand over full control of the Bagram Prison to Afghanistan was canceled Saturday, throwing into doubt an agreement between the two countries on custody of the remaining Afghan prisoners still being held by American forces.
The cancellation was likely to be an embarrassment to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, and comes at an awkward time, when the new secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, is on his first visit to the country.
There was no official word on why the transfer was canceled, but American officials were known to be upset with Mr. Karzai over remarks he made in a speech on Wednesday in which he criticized the Americans' slowness on the detention issue and promised to release many of the prisoners as soon as the transfer was complete.
The two countries agreed a year ago to transfer all prisoners detained on the battlefield from American to Afghan custody, and Mr. Karzai has made it a cornerstone of his efforts to demonstrate that his government is regaining full sovereignty. But disputes emerged over how the Afghans would handle the prisoners, many of them dangerous insurgents detained during raids by Special Operations units.
In September, when the accord called for the full transfer to the Afghans, the Americans boycotted a transfer ceremony and canceled the transfer of all prisoners to the Afghans because the two sides could not agree on how to handle the releases. The Americans wanted the prisoners held without trial indefinitely, and the Afghans insisted on holding trials for them.
But last month Mr. Karzai met with President Obama in Washington, and American officials said they had been assured that the Afghans would hold some of the prisoners without trial. Mr. Karzai's remarks on Wednesday cast doubt on whether the two sides had really reached an understanding on the issue.
"As soon as it takes place, we know there are innocent people in these jails, and I will order their release, as much as I am criticized for it," he said.
On Saturday, just hours after Mr. Hagel arrived in Afghanistan, a bomb exploded near the entrance to the Afghan Defense Ministry, an area that has come under attack before. Mr. Hagel was not in the area that was attacked, although the blast seemed timed to coincide with his visit and underscored that people intent on setting off bombs can reach the heavily secured capital.
The explosion occurred at about 9 a.m. and was followed by heavy gunfire just as Kabul residents were going to work. A defense ministry spokesman, Gen. Dawlat Waziri, confirmed the attack and said there were casualties but he did not know how many. He said it was probably a car bomb but could not confirm whether it was a suicide bomb or an empty car laden with explosives.
As soon as the bomb exploded, the Defense Ministry locked down its large compound and even employees could not go out to see the damage, said a colonel in the operations department who was reached by telephone. He said the explosion was right at the gate used by employees and visitors, which is normally crowded with people trying to get into the compound.
Alissa J. Rubin contributed reporting.