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Karzai speeding up transfer of U.S.-run prison

By Joe Sterling, CNN
updated 5:11 PM EST, Thu January 5, 2012
The U.S.-controlled Bagram prison in Afghanistan has faced allegations of human rights violations in the past.
The U.S.-controlled Bagram prison in Afghanistan has faced allegations of human rights violations in the past.
  • Detention facility in Parwan, Afghanistan, was built in late 2009
  • The U.S. Embassy in Kabul says it takes abuse allegations seriously
  • Human rights groups have criticized abuses at Bagram in the past

(CNN) -- Afghanistan's president is speeding up the transfer of the U.S.-run prison at Bagram to Afghan control within a month after hearing a report citing problems at the facility, including human rights issues.

President Hamid Karzai on Thursday assigned a commission to conduct the move. He made the decision after a briefing about the facility and the condition of its prisoners from the head of the country's Constitutional Oversight Commission, Gul Rahman Qazi. The commission is made up of top Afghan officials, including the defense, justice and interior ministers.

"The report details many cases of violations of the Afghan Constitution and other applicable laws of the country, the relevant international conventions and human rights," the president's office said.

A transfer has been planned for a while, and this effort is being made as the United States pledges to hand over more authority to the Afghans in the coming months and years.

The original detention facility had been the Bagram Theater Internment Facility at Bagram Air Base. It has been replaced by a nearby prison built in late 2009 called the Detention Facility in Parwan, named for the province. Both facilities have been called Bagram prison.

"The United States has repeatedly made clear we are committed to working with the Afghan government to complete a joint plan for transition of detention operations in Afghanistan," said Gavin Sundwall, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. "We will continue to work with the Afghan government to meet this objective."

Sundwall said he believed the announcement referred to Parwan but added that the embassy only had the palace statement to refer to and had not been given a copy of the commission's report mentioned in the presidential news release.

"We take seriously and investigate all allegations of detainee abuse. The United States respects the human rights of detainees at the Detention Facility in Parwan. Any specific allegations of detainee abuse should be addressed to ISAF," NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States has been working with the Afghan government "on appropriate timing and pace for transfer of the detention facilities."

"We're going to continue to work with the Afghan government to implement the transition -- that we have both agreed needs to happen -- of detention operations in Afghanistan. We need to do this in a manner that is maximally responsible," she said.

Karzai's decision also comes amid tensions between the United States and Afghanistan over the announcement of a Taliban office in Qatar. Karzai withdrew his ambassador from Qatar last month, apparently unhappy that his Western allies -- and principally the United States -- were forging a channel for talks with the Taliban without his approval.

The United States invaded Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban after the al Qaeda terror network attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. The Taliban had ruled Afghanistan since 1996.

Human rights activists have criticized detention practices at the Bagram facilities over the years.

Last year, Human Rights First said the detainees "are, in fact, afforded far fewer rights than are those at Guantanamo, who have the right to challenge their detention in a U.S. court and to representation by a lawyer."

"Some detainees at Bagram have been imprisoned for eight years or more without charge or trial, based largely on evidence they have never seen and with no meaningful opportunity to defend themselves," a report from the group said in May.

A U.S. Forces in Afghanistan fact sheet issued in October said the Detention Facility in Parwan "enables security, transparency and rule of law in Afghanistan both now and when the facility is transferred to the Afghan government. The design of the DFIP allows for safe, humane and effective management of the detainee population."

CNN's Nick Paton-Walsh contributed to this report.

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