After weeks of almost daily condemnation by the Pentagon, the Afghan government has finally released 65 detainees from Bagram Prison. All were held for a protracted period of time by the US, but their detentions were reviewed after the prison was handed over to the Afghans.
The controversy surrounding the detainees is also one surrounding the nature of the Afghan legal system, which was rebuilt out of wholecloth by US occupation forces after the 2001 invasion. At the time, they modeled it after the US system, with a presumption of innocence and a reliance on evidence.
The problem is that by 2014 both notions were considered totally outdated by the Pentagon, and open-ended detention without evidence on military say-so is the order of the day. The handover of Bagram stalled several times on President Obama’s inability to get Afghan President Hamid Karzai to promise not to give any of the detainees access to the court system.
It wasn’t Karzai being difficult, even if it was spun that way. The Afghan legal system simply doesn’t have the loopholes that’ve been carved out in the American one, and a president can’t simply bypass the courts for international convenience.
In the end the decision was to give the detainees access to a Review Board. The Pentagon has argued that this too was never meant to be able to release anyone, but was supposed to decide between sending those with real evidence against them to the courts for trial, and extending the detention of the rest “pending investigation.”
Instead, when the board couldn’t find any evidence on a lot of the detainees, they ordered them released. When the US sent them what they insisted was rock-solid proof of guilt, it amounted to little more than Pentagon statements of their guilt with no evidence attached.
The Pentagon’s final “pre-release” statement insisted that the 65 are “all Taliban” and will return to the battlefield to kill US troops.