KABUL (Reuters) - An Afghan government commission investigating abuse accusations at the largest U.S. jail in Afghanistan said Saturday that inmates had reported being tortured and held without evidence.
However, the commission said it had found no evidence of torture on the detainees’ bodies. The findings came just days after President Hamid Karzai called for the facility, inside the U.S.-run Bagram Airfield just north of the capital, to be handed over to Afghan control.
“During our visit to Bagram some of the prisoners talked of misconduct, some alleged they had been tortured,” the commission’s head, Gul Rahman Qazi, told a news conference in Kabul.
Qazi said prisoners had complained of abuse including beatings, humiliating body cavity searches and being exposed to extreme cold. He cited the case of 71-year-old Abdul Jabar, who said he had been held in a pitch-black room and lost a tooth after being punched.
“There was no evidence of torture on prisoners’ bodies but they claimed that they had been tortured,” Qazi said.
A spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Kabul said they had received a copy of the commission’s report and would “study it closely.”
Control over Afghans captured by U.S. forces is a major stumbling block in negotiations between Kabul and Washington on a strategic partnership agreement. NATO’s night-time raids on Afghan homes, which Karzai objects to, is another point of contention.
The agreement would define the terms of any U.S. military presence after the end of 2014, when foreign combat troops are due home, but progress has been slow.
The commission was set up by Karzai on January 5 when he demanded that the prison, located in one of the largest military bases for NATO-led forces fighting in Afghanistan, be transferred to Afghan control within a month.
Citing the need for Afghan sovereignty, he also asked for all U.S.-held Afghan prisoners in the country to be handed over to Afghan custody. Qazi repeated that demand.
“Foreign troops are not allowed to keep prisons in Afghanistan, which is sovereign and has its own constitution,” he told the news conference.
The United States has long said it intended to eventually do this as part of NATO’s handover of security to the Afghan army and police, which are being bolstered ahead of the foreign troop pullout.
The U.S. embassy spokesman said allegations of abuse would be examined.
“We take seriously and investigate all allegations of detainee abuse,” Gavin Sundwall told Reuters in Kabul.
Qazi said U.S. prison officials had told the commission that there were legal cases against only 300 of around 3,000 detainees at Bagram. The rest were suspected Taliban members and some were caught using intelligence that would not stand up in court, the commission said.
“The coalition forces do not provide sufficient (evidence) to try an individual,” Qazi said.
He also said that some prisoners were being kept behind bars without trial, or after they had been acquitted or had finished serving their sentences.
Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo