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U.S. Senators Press Karzai Over Prisoner Release

Republican U.S. Senators John McCain, John Barrasso, and Lindsey Graham at a press conference in Kabul after meeting with Afghan President Karzai
Republican U.S. Senators John McCain, John Barrasso, and Lindsey Graham at a press conference in Kabul after meeting with Afghan President Karzai
KABUL -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered a new review of 88 prisoners due to be released after several visiting U.S. senators raised objections.

Karzai called for the review of the 88 detainees after meeting with U.S. senators led by Republicans John McCain (Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (South Carolina).

"There is much evidence to suggest wrongdoing [by the 88 prisoners the U.S. considers a threat to security]," Graham told reporters after the meeting with Karzai. "Over 60 coalition forces have been killed as a result of the actions by these 88, and 57 Afghans have been killed by the actions of these 88. To allow them to be freed would be an affront to the Afghan people and to the soldiers and those who have bravely risked their lives to capture them."

Graham added that their release would harm relations with the United States.

"If these releases go ahead, it will do irreparable damage to the relationship. There will be a backlash in the U.S. Congress, and I think the Afghan people will be very upset," Graham said. "You already hear from the Afghan people that they want the dangerous criminals to be tried in a court, not released arbitrarily, so the hope is that we can allow the Afghan legal system to do its job. We are not asking that these people be tried in America; we are not asking that Americans do the job; we are asking that trained judges make these decisions."

Abdu Shokour Dadras, member of a review committee set up by Karzai to reexamine cases of prisoners held in Bagram, acknowledged there would be a new review of the prisoners Graham mentioned.

"We've already completed the review of the 88 cases, but following an order from the [Afghan] Presidential Palace we are now looking forward to seeing what evidence our national and foreign intelligence organizations can provide us to back their claims," Dadras said.

The 88 are among some 650 prisoners Afghan authorities are freeing to encourage peace talks with the Taliban.

McCain said the senators also discussed the issue of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with Karzai, who has been reluctant to sign the deal.

"I am convinced that as a result of our long meeting with President Karzai we have narrowed those differences, and I believe that we can look forward to the signing of the BSA and implementation of that sooner rather than later," McCain said.

Without the agreement, the United States has warned it could pull all its troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Karzai has raised concerns about parts of the agreement dealing with jurisdiction over U.S. servicemen in Afghanistan should they violate the law and on the ability of U.S. forces to launch operations in civilian areas where Taliban fighters are present.

With reporting by Reuters and AP