WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is pursuing plans to hand control of its largest prison in Afghanistan to that country’s government, but wants Kabul to let the American military hold terrorism suspects from other countries there, according to U.S. officials.
If Afghan officials agree, it would give the administration a place to hold and interrogate terrorism suspects captured elsewhere around the world. President Barack Obama wants to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, leaving the administration without a lockup for those suspected of plotting attacks against the U.S.
Administration officials have looked in recent months to the U.S.-run prison at Bagram air base as place to hold suspects captured elsewhere. But Afghan officials have long demanded they be given control of the prison and the Obama administration has agreed. Last month, Obama reiterated his commitment to give the Afghanistan government control of the prison.
Now, administration officials are developing a compromise plan to hand over control, but also to carve out a section of the prison for non-Afghan detainees who would remain under U.S. custody, according to a senior U.S. official.
The proposed plan, in early stages of development, is the subject of quiet discussions among senior officials and has not been submitted to the White House National Security Council. The idea also has not been formally presented to Afghan officials.
But the issue encompasses the legal and ethical quandaries that continue to engulf U.S. detention policy. Under a recent U.S. appeals court decision, the prison at Bagram air base is outside the reach of federal courts. The ruling means that prisoners held there cannot challenge their detention or demand legal rights, unlike detainees even at Guantanamo.
The senior U.S. official, who along with others spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan is not final, said Bagram remains the best option for holding future terrorist suspects captured elsewhere in the world, in places such as Somalia or Yemen. The official said a final decision on using Bagram likely would be made only after U.S. forces capture a suspect in an area with few detention options and officials decide that interrogations are necessary.