KABUL, Afghanistan - President Hamid Karzai has ordered Afghan forces to take control of the U.S.-built Bagram Prison and accused U.S. officials of violating an agreement to fully transfer the facility to the Afghans, according to a statement issued by his office Monday.
The move came after what Karzai said was the expiration of a two-month grace period, agreed to by President Barack Obama in September, to complete the transfer of the prison, at the Bagram Air Base north of Kabul. The Afghan president convened a meeting Sunday of top officials to report on the prison's status, which led to Monday's statement, officials said.
Particularly at issue were 57 prisoners who had been acquitted by the Afghan courts but have been held by U.S. officials at the prison for more than a month in defiance of release orders, Aimal Faizi, the spokesman for Karzai, said in an interview.
Afghan officials were also concerned with the status of new prisoners being captured on the battlefield by U.S. troops, who the Afghans feel should be transferred to their control under the prison transfer agreement signed by the two countries this year.
Faizi said hundreds of new prisoners are being held by U.S. authorities in a closed-off section of the Bagram Prison, which the U.S. military calls the Detention Facility in Parwan.
The U.S. military did not respond to specific complaints from Afghan officials, but U.S. Forces-Afghanistan released a statement saying, "The United States fully respects the sovereignty of Afghanistan, and we are committed to fulfilling the mutual obligations incurred under the Memorandum of Understanding on Detentions."
Human rights advocates welcomed Karzai's move. Tina Foster, with the International Justice Network, who represents some Bagram detainees, met recently with Afghan officials in an effort to visit her clients in Bagram. Afghan officials approved the visits, but the U.S. military blocked them, she said.