Nine Bagram detainees return to Pakistan

Bagram prison
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A general view of the prison compound before a ceremony handing over the Bagram prison to Afghan authorities, at the U.S. airbase in Bagram, north of Kabul September 10, 2012. (REUTERS/Omar Sobhani)

Nine Pakistani detainees have returned home from Afghanistan's Bagram prison, a group representing them said Thursday, as US-led international forces prepare to withdraw from the country by the end of the year.

Afghan authorities took over the detention facility for militants in 2013, renaming it Parwan, but the US remains in charge of foreigners and there are believed to be around 15 Pakistanis still in custody.

"The families of the detainees have been informed by the International Red Cross (ICRC) that their loved ones have been handed over to the Pakistani authorities," a statement by the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), which has been pursuing Islamabad to secure their release, said.

It described one of the nine men as a 39-year-old businessman from the northwestern city of Abbottabad, who disappeared on a visit to Afghanistan in 2008.

"After hearing the news of his detention in Bagram, his aged mother passed away. Father of three Shoaib Khan was the main bread winner of the family. After he was detained in Bagram Shoaib’s aged father has had to go back to work to make ends meet," it added.

Sarah Belal, lead counsel for JPP said: "We are pleased to learn about the recent releases from Bagram and are delighted for their families – their years-long nightmare is finally coming to an end."

She added that the detainees were currently under Pakistani government custody and called for their speedy release.

Rights groups have accused US authorities of carrying out prisoner abuse at the facility, and a US army report found that two inmates were beaten to death in 2002.

In some cases, US officials have found little evidence of detainees' involvement in militancy, but they have remained in custody due to delays in processing their repatriation.

- legal limbo -

A former Pakistan detainee interviewed by AFP in April said he had suffered beatings and sleep deprivation during his nine-year-detention and that Koran abuse was rampant.

A US defence spokesman at the time said that certain cases of abuse had been substantiated, but added: "our enemies also have employed a deliberate campaign of exaggerations and fabrications".

The JPP has taken the Pakistani government to court to push for the remaining detainees' liberation ahead of the withdrawal of foreign troops by the end of 2014, fearing they could be caught in legal limbo.

All NATO combat soldiers will depart by the end of the year, though a follow-up support mission of about 10,000 troops is planned if the next president signs security deals with the US and NATO.