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WikiLeaks docs show US frustration on Karzai's prisoner releases

By David de Sola, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Afghanistan's president pardoned or ordered the release of several prisoners
  • The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan sent cables documenting the releases
  • Afghan officials refused to comment on the diplomatic missives
  • Some of the prisoners were drug suspects

(CNN) -- The early and pre-trial release of prisoners by the Afghan government, at times with the intervention of the country's president, has frustrated U.S. officials, diplomatic documents released by WikiLeaks reveal.

In one case, Afghan President Hamid Karzai used his authority to pardon five border police officers who were caught with 124 kilograms of heroin in their police vehicle, according to an August 2009 State Department cable published by WikiLeaks.

The policemen, known as the Zahir Five, were tried and convicted at the Central Narcotics Tribunal, and sentenced to serve prison terms of 16 to 18 years each. But Karzai pardoned them, "on the grounds that they were distantly related to two individuals who had been martyred during the civil war."

The cable, signed by U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, documents two other cases in which Karzai exercised his influence on behalf of well-connected drug suspects or is believed to have done so.

The issue is particularly senstitive since the United States has focused on decreasing the drug trade in Afghanistan; a significant part of its Afghan strategy.

Afghan officials, including the spokesman for Karzai, refused to comment on the cable.

In a second case, the cable alleges the president interfered in the narcotics case of Haji Amanullah, the son of a wealthy businessman and Karzai supporter. The document says that Karzai ordered, "without any constitutional authority," that police conduct a second investigation into the case, a probe that concluded that Amanullah had been framed. Karzai's chief of staff Mohammad Omar Daudzai told Deputy U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Frank Ricciardone that he was "ashamed" of the president for his interference in the Amanullah and Zahir Five cases.

In a third case, the cable cites "credible, but unconfirmed intelligence" that Karzai had signed a letter pardoning a suspect named as Col. Jaweed, who is currently in prison after 26 kilograms of heroin belonging to him was found in a vehicle search. Jaweed is described as "the nephew of a powerful member of parliament." Daudzai "denied any significant pressure in this case."

The document describes a fourth case, citing "unconfirmed intelligence" that the Afghan president was planning to release Ismal Safed, a drug trafficker serving a 19-year prison sentence who is described as "a priority DEA target." Daudzai told Ricciardone that Karzai would not pardon Safed, and that "Post's concerns about this case will reaffirm President Karzai's decision not to interfere."

Narcotics are not the only area of concern to U.S. diplomats in this cable. In addition to the narco-trafficking pardons, Ricciardone and State Department legal advisor Harold Hongju Koh spoke with Afghan attorney general Ishaq Aloko expressing their concerns about the pre-trial releases of detainees. The embassy had previously expressed its concerns on this issue to Afghan national security adviser Zalmai Rassoul in spring of 2008.

The detainees were held at the Afghan National Detention Facility (ANDF) after being transferred from the Bagram Theatre Internment Facility (BTIF). According to the cable, 150 detainees were released from ANDF without trial from spring of 2007 until July of 2009, including 29 detainees from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo. During that period, 629 detainees were transferred from BTIF, including 41 from Guantanamo.

"Despite our complaints and expressions of concern to the [Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan], pre-trial releases continue," the U.S. diplomatic cable said.

 
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