ISLAMABAD (AP) — Dozens of Pakistani prisoners held by the U.S. at an Afghan prison have been stuck in limbo for years, a Pakistani legal advocacy group trying to bring attention to their situation said in a report issued Wednesday.
Holding up their return are concerns by U.S. officials that the detainees might return to the battlefield or face inhumane treatment after returning to Pakistan, the group said in its report. The report was based on interviews with ex-detainees, relatives of current detainees, U.S. officials, Pakistani officials and documents obtained from Freedom of Information requests made by the American Civil Liberties Union.
About 40 of the detainees at the prison are believed to be Pakistani, and most were taken into custody by U.S. forces following the invasion of Afghanistan. "We found that there is absolute confusion on what needs to be done to bring these people home," Sarah Belal, Justice Project Pakistan's director, told reporters.
The report criticized U.S. and Pakistani authorities for not doing more to accelerate the release of the detainees, and Belal said their status has put them "in a legal black hole." Some detainees have been cleared for release, but remain trapped in prison, the report said.
"After years of being held by the U.S. government without charge, trial or any real progress on their cases, Pakistani detainees are losing hope," the report said. It also said detainees do not have independent lawyers, must be represented by U.S. military lawyers and cannot see classified evidence used against them.
Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a spokesman for the U.S. Defense department defended the release review process, saying detainees can call witnesses and defend themselves while stressing that no detainees eligible for release can be sent home until guarantees are secured from the governments in their home countries that they won't be mistreated.
All of the detainees being held by the U.S. were detained for "enemy actions" in Afghanistan after the U.S. invaded the country, he said. He added that all of the detainees are visited by representatives of the International Red Cross and that "the U.S. remains committed to seeing that every detainee held by our forces who can be transferred to a verifiably secure and humane situation is."
Relatives of those still in custody complained about their treatment by the Pakistani government, saying they are viewed with suspicion by Pakistani security forces because they have relatives being held by Americans. Others criticized slow movement by Pakistani authorities to lobby for the detainees' release.
Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, a spokesman for Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stressed that Pakistani officials have been in contact about the detainees' future with U.S. and Afghan officials and with the Red Cross.
"We have consistently emphasized that Pakistani nationals should be released," Chaudhry said. __ Follow Santana on Twitter @ruskygal. __ On the Internet: www.jpp.org.pk/bagram/