Snap Fact #312
Bagram prison control turned over to Afghans; President Obama Keeps a Commitment in Spite of Difficulties!

Guantanamo and abu Grave are well known names. If they just ring a bell but you can’t place them, these are the two most notorious and well publicized prisons holding enemy combatants and terrorists. The names are especially significant because each has been involved with high visibility and well publicized activities.

There is another major detention facility that, although not as well known, has its share of a problematic history. Bagram, formally called Parwan Detention Facility was opened during the dawn of the George Bush administration early in 2002.

The facility traditionally held about 1,000 prisoners, housed in an old Russian hanger located within the Bagram Air Force Base. The old holding facility was rebuilt into a full scale prison in 2009. As recently as a year and a half ago only 1,100 prisoners were incarcerated there. Nowadays, three times that number of men call the prison their home. However, overcrowding is not the biggest problem at Bagram.



Early in 2012 the prison took its seat beside abu Grave and Guantanamo in the Infamy Hall of Fame. You may remember the incident when hundreds of Qurans were removed from the prison library to be put to the torch on the base. This unfortunate event set off a deadly string of protests across Afghanistan in which a half dozen American soldiers were murdered in retaliation for the ill-advised affront.
In compliance with President Obama’s policy of handing over the defense responsibilities for Afghans to defend Afghanistan by the time of U.S. and NATO withdrawal in 2014, a plan was devised to hand over the facility to Afghan control and an agreement was drawn up on March 9th. The negotiations were tricky and the final memorandum of understanding did not come to be without much difficulty on both sides of the table.

Even at the transfer tension was evident at the September 11, 2012 ceremony. The Afghans sent several high ranking officials including their army chief of staff and defense minister while no high ranking officials were present on the American side. President Karzai stayed away, but he released a statement calling the handover a “very big step regarding the sovereignty of Afghanistan.”

Since the handover, the U.S. has transferred 3,082 detainees to Afghan control, according to Afghan Army Gen. Ghulam Farouk, who now heads the prison. But a few weeks ago, the U.S. stopped all transfers.

“Some 99 percent of the detainees captured before 9 March have already been transferred to Afghan authority, but we have paused the transfer of the remaining detainees until our concerns are met,” said Jamie Graybeal, a spokesman for the U.S.-led military coalition.

The point of contention is the control over release/retention policies. The Afghans pridefully want to exercise their independence and have sole discretion over who gets released. The American concern is that the Afghans will release dangerous prisoners back into the fray.

Because there are about 30 hard core Taliban and other presumed terrorists involved, the U.S. has refused to transfer the last prisoners to Afghan supervision. The Afghans have said that they will not hold many of these dangerous prisoners without charge as we do in Guantanamo.

As if to reinforce the American point of view, shortly after the facility exchange, a suicide attack killed 15 people and wounded 25 others in the northern city of Kunduz. This was clear reminder that the very people in American hands would have the means and the motive to go back to their murderous ways if released.

The stalemate continues as one more unfinished piece of business that an American President will have to make. When you go to the polls think of this loose end and ask yourself who will have the best chance for a good outcome in this sticky situation.