With the U.S. government planning to hand over control of the prison, American officials believe that Afghan authorities are unlikely to have any interest in either continuing to hold the foreigners or in putting them on trial. By beginning the repatriation process soon, officials believe they can negotiate transfers with the detainees’ home countries, arrange for post-transfer monitoring, and secure diplomatic assurances that detainees will not be abused when they return home.
U.S. officials said that deliberations about the detainees, being held near Bagram Air Base, have just begun and that no final decisions have been made. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
A small number of detainees may be deemed to pose a terrorist threat, requiring their continued detention or close supervision by their home country if released from the Afghan prison, officials said. Additionally, a number of them are Yemeni, complicating their possible repatriation. President Obama has suspended the transfer home of their fellow nationals from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, because of concerns about the security situation in Yemen.
The largest single group of foreign detainees at the prison is Pakistani, and there are up to two dozen Arabs of various nationalities, according to administration and foreign officials.
Among the first detainees likely to be transferred home is Yunus Rahmatullah, a Pakistani national, whose release has been demanded by a British court. Rahmatullah, a suspected extremist, was picked up by troops with Britain’s elite Special Air Service in Iraq in 2004 and handed over to U.S. forces. The CIA subsequently flew him to Afghanistan without informing the British, according to press reports and court papers.
Attorneys for Rahmatullah, 29, argued in the British courts that the transfer violated a memorandum of understanding between the U.S. and British militaries, and was a grave violation of the Geneva Conventions because it involved the removal of a civilian from the war theater.
Last month, a British court granted a writ of habeas corpus and ordered the British government to get custody of Rahmatullah. The court noted that a 2010 Detainee Review Board hearing of military officers at Bagram cleared Rahmatullah for release.
The British Court of Appeal said that if the British foreign secretary and defense minister failed to secure Rahmatullah, it would “be moved to commit you to prison for your contempt in not obeying the said writ.” The court set a deadline of Feb. 14 for Rahmatullah’s release.