By Cassandra Vinograd
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN: The Afghan government has begun the process of releasing three dozen prisoners despite U.S. protests that they are highly dangerous, officials said Monday, the latest sign of deteriorating relations between the two countries ahead of the year-end withdrawal of most international combat troops.
The move to release the prisoners prompted an angry denunciation from the U.S. military, which said the 37 prisoners slated for release are “dangerous insurgents who have Afghan blood on their hands” with strong evidence against them to merit further prosecution or investigation — from DNA linking them to roadside bombs to explosives residue on their clothing.
President Hamid Karzai’s government has rebuffed the U.S. claims that the men pose a serious risk of returning to violence if they’re released, and used the issue to test his government’s relationship with the U.S. as the two sides struggle over the question of a post-2014 foreign presence.
Karzai has stepped up his anti-American rhetoric since refusing to sign an agreement that would allow thousands of American soldiers to stay in the country after the end of the NATO-led combat mission. Instead, he has said he wants to wait to sign until after the country elects his successor in Afghanistan’s April 5 presidential election.
The Obama administration is pressing him to change his mind, warning that Afghan forces still need training to fight a resilient insurgency.
Earlier this month, Karzai ordered the release of all but 16 of a group of 88 inmates at the Parwan Detention Facility that the U.S. says pose a threat to Afghanistan and the region. He recently criticized the facility, referring to it as a “Taliban-producing factory” where he said innocent Afghans are tortured into hating their country.
The U.S. military formally disputed the decision to release the prisoners but said Monday an Afghan review board had effectively overruled the challenge.
In an apparent last-minute bid to sway public opinion, the U.S. military announced the release plans in a statement even before the Afghan government made it public.
Karzai’s spokesman confirmed that the prisoners will be freed within one or two days and condemned the U.S. response.
“Foreign forces don’t have any right to bring into question the decision of the judicial system of a country,” spokesman Aimal Faizi said.