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Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai orders release of prisoners seen as threat by U.S.

By Jethro Mullen and Masoud Popalzai, CNN
January 10, 2014 -- Updated 1015 GMT (1815 HKT)
A general exterior view of Bagram Prison facilities is seen outside Kabul on March 25, 2012 in Afghanistan.
A general exterior view of Bagram Prison facilities is seen outside Kabul on March 25, 2012 in Afghanistan.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Afghan spy agency finds no evidence against 72 inmates of Bagram prison
  • A judiciary meeting chaired by President Hamid Karzai clears them for release
  • The prisoners are "dangerous criminals" linked to terrorism, the United States says
  • The release order comes amid broader tensions between Washington and Kabul

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai has authorized the release of dozens of prisoners seen as a security threat by the United States.

A judiciary meeting chaired by Karzai decided Thursday to free 72 prisoners from Bagram prison after the presentation of a report from the Afghan spy agency saying there was no evidence against them, Karzai's office said in a statement.

But the U.S. State Department disagreed with the decision.

"These 72 detainees are dangerous criminals against whom there is strong evidence linking them to terror-related crimes, including the use of improvised explosive devices, the largest killer of Afghan civilians," Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said at a news conference Thursday.

"These insurgents, who pose threats to the safety and security of the Afghan people and the state, are being released without an investigation and without the use of criminal justice system in accordance with Afghan law," Psaki said.

The prisoner release order comes amid broader tensions between Washington and Kabul over Karzai's current unwillingness to sign a bilateral security agreement to keep some U.S. and other coalition troops in Afghanistan after this year.

Karzai has said he won't sign the deal until after the country's elections in April and until certain conditions are met, including an end to U.S. raids on Afghan homes and the release of Afghan prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

The judiciary meeting chaired Thursday by Karzai tasked the Afghanistan Criminal Cases Review Commission with releasing the 72 prisoners. It also asked the review commission to reassess the cases of the 16 other inmates in the prison against whom the spy agency says there is evidence.

The planned release of the 72 prisoners "undermines Afghanistan's court system and rule of law, because the Afghan people do not get their day in court," Psaki said Thursday.

It's not the first time that Karzai's decision to release prisoners has upset the United States.

The early and pre-trial release of prisoners by the Afghan government, at times at Karzai's hand, frustrated U.S. officials, diplomatic documents released in 2010 by WikiLeaks revealed.

CNN's Masoud Popalzai reported from Kabul, and Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong.

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