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US transfers Bagram jail to Afghan control

KABUL--The United States handed control of the controversial giant Bagram jail and its 3,000 suspected Taliban inmates to Afghan authorities on Monday, amid concerns the transfer could leave prisoners vulnerable to further rights abuses.

Hundreds of Afghan soldiers watched as an Afghan flag was hoisted in front of the prison at the huge U.S.-run airfield north of Kabul, as part of a plan to withdraw foreign troops from combat operations in 2014.

“Today is a historical and glorious day for Afghanistan where Afghans are able to take the charge of the prison themselves,” acting Defense Minister Enayatullah Nazari told a large crowd including U.S. military officials.

In a move that has angered the Afghan government, the U.S. plans to keep at least one block at the prison, where any suspected Taliban fighters or terrorists captured in future raids will be held before being handed over.

Afghanistan has long sought control of the sprawling prison, which has been likened to Guantanamo in Cuba and Abu Graib in Iraq for its association with torture and long detention times.

Prisoners have often been held for years without trial, and activists say they will be vulnerable to more rights abuses once the handover is complete.

Afghan authorities will maintain the American policy of detention without trial at Bagram, and many fear the practice could be extended to the rest of the country heralding a new chapter of rights abuses by powerful tribes and families.

Afghan lawyers say Afghanistan's social system of powerful tribes and influential families could mean that inmates are exposed to abuse if individuals are imprisoned without trial and on the basis of little, if any, evidence.

“A wealthy figure or a person of authority, if offended for whatever reason, can arrest an innocent citizen over personal or family vendettas,” the president of Afghanistan's Independent Bar Association, Rohullah Qarizada, told Reuters.

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