Conflict & Justice

Britain prepared to release Afghan detainees


Afghan detainees wait to be released during a ceremony to hand over Bagram prison to the Afghanistan government at Bagram Prison facilities on March 25, 2012.


Massoud Hossaini

LONDON, UK — Britain said Wednesday that it's prepared to hand over as many as 100 detainees held at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, hours after Defense Secretary Philip Hammond confirmed the detentions.

Lawyers for the detainees claim that many have been illegally detained in secret at the UK's temporary Afghanistan holding facility, including eight men who were reportedly held for 14 months without charges. They also said many prisoners were not able to get access to a lawyer.

"Our client has been held at Camp Bastion since August 2012," said Rosa Curling, the lawyer representing one of the 20-year-old prisoners, the Guardian reported.

"He has not been charged with any crime and has had no access to a lawyer so he can receive legal advice about his ongoing detention." 

British officials downplayed the accusations.

"The assertion that this is a secret facility is patently ridiculous," said Defense Secretary Philip Hammond, according to the military news site British Forces News.

The Ministry of Defense argued that the detentions were legal.

"The UK's temporary holding facilities at Camp Bastion are regularly monitored by the International Committee of the Red Cross," the ministry said in a statement. "All UK detentions in Afghanistan are legal under the UN mandate and comply with all applicable international obligations."

Afghanistan’s ambassador to the UK said Wednesday that "the principle of national sovereignty" meant that the men should be surrendered to Afghan custody.

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi called the detentions "inhuman."

"The prisoners must be handed over to the Afghan authorities," he said. "After their handover to us, they will be dealt with according to our judicial laws, and the agreements reached with the international community."

In London, Hammond conceded that the number of detainees was unusually high because of problems transferring them to the Afghan system. He added that usually only about 20 people are held at a time.

"Let's be clear what they are asking for: they are asking the court to release these people to turn them back to the battlefield so they can carry on with the activities for which they were detained in the first place, putting British troops and other Isaf (International Security Assistance Force troops) lives at risk," Mr Hammond said.

Reactions on the Twittershpere have been mixed.

"Having seen how Afghans treat prisoners, I'm a little surprised lawyers for the 85+ held at Bastion want them out of UK custody so fast," tweeted Mark Urban, defense editor at the BBC program Newsnight.

"This is how UK 'liberates' Afghanistan: with unlawful detentions in secret prison," tweeted journalist Rachel Shabi, author of Not the Enemy: Israel's Jews From Arab Lands.

"Bastion detainees awkward for UK: on one hand talks about governance & progress in Afghanistan, on other fears abuse in judicial system," tweeted Jon Williams, foreign editor at ABC News.