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JFP 3/25: AP busts State Department for lying to Leahy about Honduras
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 25 March 2013 - 4:02pm
Just Foreign Policy News, March 25, 2013
AP busts State Department for lying to Leahy about Honduras
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
Flotilla 3.0: Redeeming Obama's Palestine Speech With Gaza's Ark
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1) The State Department, which spends millions of taxpayer dollars a year on the Honduran National Police, has assured Congress that money only goes to specially vetted and trained units that don't operate under the direct supervision of a police chief once accused of extrajudicial killings and "social cleansing," AP reports. But AP has found that all police units are under the control of Director General Juan Carlos Bonilla, nicknamed the "Tiger," who in 2002 was accused of three extrajudicial killings and links to 11 more deaths and disappearances.
The allegations against Bonilla, along with other concerns about police and military killings, prompted the U.S. Congress to freeze an estimated $30 million in Honduran aid last August. Most has been restored under agreements with the U.S. Department of State over the monitoring of Honduran operations receiving U.S. money.
The agreement doesn't specifically mention Bonilla, but Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, who has led a Congressional group that has questioned human rights violation in Honduras, said last week that he made his intentions clear: "No units under General Bonilla's control should receive U.S. assistance without credible information refuting the serious allegations against him," Leahy said in an email to the AP.
"Senator Leahy has asked the State Department to clarify how they differentiate between what they told the Congress and what is being said by those within Honduran police units under his authority," Leahy aide Tim Rieser said Friday.
2) Debate is stirring in Washington about whether an interventionist, military-oriented foreign policy is the best way to guarantee America's power and security, or whether more modesty and humility would be wiser, writes Stephen Kinzer in the Guardian. Senator Rand Paul has asserted that "a more restrained foreign policy is the true conservative foreign policy" and that "to involve our troops in further conflicts that hold no vital US interests is wrong." A handful of Democrats have been saying much the same for years. Seeing even a few Republicans joining them is refreshing and long-overdue. They have good reason to wonder whether the US really needs more than 700 military bases around the world, or 50,000 soldiers in Germany, or numbingly expensive weapons systems like the F-35 fighter jet.
Noting McCain's dismissal of critics of unrestrained military interventionism as "wacko birds," Kinzer outlines what a "wacko bird" US foreign policy might look like: careful and thoughtful intervention; military force as a last resort; acceptance that US power can't smash other cultures; finding more creative ways to intervene abroad than aid, bullying, and bombing; accepting the need for diplomatic compromise; a narrow definition of vital interests.
3) Syria's opposition coalition was on the verge of collapse Sunday after its president resigned and rebel fighters rejected its choice to head an interim government, the Washington Post reports. The Post says this left a U.S.-backed effort to forge a united front against President Assad "in tatters."
4) The outcome of the Cyprus crisis may mark at least the beginning of the end for the era when unrestricted movement of capital was taken as a desirable norm around the world, writes Paul Krugman in the New York Times. Krugman notes that in the decades after World War II, capital controls were the norm, and the financial crises that have now become "normal" hardly ever happened.
5) Defense attorneys for Guantanamo detainees say the Department of Defense has lowballed the number of Guantanamo detainees on hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention, writes John Knefel in Rolling Stone. Knefel notes that eight of the hunger strikers are being force-fed through a tube, a process the UN has previously classified as torture.
6) With help from the C.I.A., Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria's opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against Assad, the New York Times reports. Even as the Obama administration has publicly refused to give more than "nonlethal" aid to the rebels, the involvement of the C.I.A. in the arms shipments has shown that the US is more willing to help its Arab allies support the lethal side of the civil war, the Times says.
7) Netanyahu has authorized a resumption of the monthly transfer of taxes and customs duties collected by Israel for the Palestinian Authority, the Washington Post reports. The move reverses an Israeli decision to suspend the regular tax transfers as punishment for the successful Palestinian bid in November to become a nonmember observer state at the UN.
8) The US military formally transferred all but "a small number" of the Afghan prisoners at the Bagram Prison to the Afghan government on Monday in a ceremony that almost, but not quite, marked the end of US involvement in the long-term detention of insurgents, the New York Times reports. The Bagram commander said that the US had given the Afghans control of a total of 4,000 prisoners in the last year since the transfer began but that a small number still remained in US custody. The US has long argued for a nonjudicial review process and a way to hold insurgent prisoners in long-term administrative detention, but Afghan officials objected that administrative detention [that is, indefinite detention] was unconstitutional.
1) US Aids Honduran Police Despite Death Squad Fears
Associated Press, March 23, 2013
Tegucigalpa, Honduras - The U.S. State Department, which spends millions of taxpayer dollars a year on the Honduran National Police, has assured Congress that money only goes to specially vetted and trained units that don't operate under the direct supervision of a police chief once accused of extrajudicial killings and "social cleansing."
But The Associated Press has found that all police units are under the control of Director General Juan Carlos Bonilla, nicknamed the "Tiger," who in 2002 was accused of three extrajudicial killings and links to 11 more deaths and disappearances. He was tried on one killing and acquitted. The rest of the cases were never fully investigated.
Honduran law prohibits any police unit from operating outside the command of the director general, according to a top Honduran government security official, who would only speak on condition of anonymity. He said that is true in practice as well as on paper.
Celso Alvarado, a criminal law professor and consultant to the Honduran Commission for Security and Justice Sector Reform, said the same. "Every police officer in Honduras, regardless of their specific functions, is under the hierarchy and obedience of the director general," he said.
The official line from Honduras, however, is that the money does not go to Bonilla. "The security programs that Honduras is implementing with the United States are under control of the ministers of security and defense," said Foreign Minister Arturo Corrales, who negotiates the programs with the State Department.
But the security official attributed the contradiction to the politics necessary in a country in the grip of a security emergency.
With 91 murders per 100,000 people, the small Central American nation is often called the most violent in the world. An estimated 40 percent of the cocaine headed to the U.S. - and 87 percent of cocaine smuggling flights from South America - pass through Honduras, according to the State Department.
The allegations against Bonilla, along with other concerns about police and military killings, prompted the U.S. Congress to freeze an estimated $30 million in Honduran aid last August. Most has been restored under agreements with the U.S. Department of State over the monitoring of Honduran operations receiving U.S. money.
The agreement doesn't specifically mention Bonilla, but Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, who has led a Congressional group that has questioned human rights violation in Honduras, said last week that he made his intentions clear:
"No units under General Bonilla's control should receive U.S. assistance without credible information refuting the serious allegations against him," Leahy said in an email to the AP.
That information so far has not been provided by the State Department, and the AP's findings have prompted more questions.
"Senator Leahy has asked the State Department to clarify how they differentiate between what they told the Congress and what is being said by those within Honduran police units under his authority," Leahy aide Tim Rieser said Friday. "Sen. Leahy, like others, made clear early on his concerns about Gen. Bonilla and the conduct of the Honduran police."
Dozens of U.S. Congressmen, Leahy chief among them, have been raising concerns for many years about abuses of authority and human rights violations by the Honduran police, a force of 14,000 officers that is considered among the most corrupt in the world.
The AP reported on Sunday that two gang-related people detained by police in January have disappeared, fueling long-standing accusations that the Honduran police operate death squads and engage in "social cleansing." It also found that in the last three years, Honduran prosecutors have received as many as 150 formal complaints about death squad-style killings in the capital of Tegucigalpa, and at least 50 more in the economic hub of San Pedro Sula.
The country's National Autonomous University, citing police reports, has counted 149 civilians killed by police in the last two years, including 25 members of the "18th Street" gang, one of the largest and most dangerous in the country.
California Rep. Sam Farr sent the AP report to every member of Congress on Friday, saying, "I share the concerns outlined in this article about the continued lack of investigations into human rights violations at the hands of Honduran law enforcement officials."
U.S. law, according to an amendment that bears Leahy's name, requires the State Department to vet foreign security forces receiving U.S. aid to make sure the recipients have not committed gross human rights violations. If violations are found, the money is withheld. The State Department in a report last August said Honduras met the provisions of the Foreign Operations and Related Programs Act, which requires that the secretary of state provide Congress proof that Honduras is protecting freedom of expression and investigating and prosecuting all military and police personnel accused of human rights violations.
The department "has established a working group to examine thoroughly the allegations against (Bonilla) to ensure compliance with the Leahy Law," the State Department report to Congress said. "While this review is ongoing, we are carefully limiting assistance to those special Honduran law enforcement units, staffed by Leahy-vetted Honduran personnel who receive training, guidance, and advice directly from U.S. law enforcement, and not under Bonilla's direct supervision."
When asked by AP if the specially vetted Honduran police units working with the U.S. Embassy still report to Bonilla, the Honduran security official said: "Yes, that's how it works, because of personal loyalty and federal law."
U.S. support goes to Honduran forces working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on anti-narcotics operations, and anti-gang, anti-kidnapping and border-security units, according to an embassy official who was not authorized to speak on the record.
On Monday, the State Department announced another $16.3 million in support to Honduran police and prosecutors to battle violence and money laundering and to improve border security. Some of the U.S. money will go to the Gang Resistance Education and Training program under the director of community policing, who also told the AP that he reports directly to Bonilla.
"I only report to the director general, all of the programs of the Honduran police are directed personally by him," said Otoniel Castillo, a police sub-commissioner. "He has a personal and intense closeness to all projects of international cooperation, especially because of his good relationship with the U.S. Embassy."
2) Beyond military intervention: a 'wacko birds' manifesto for US foreign policy
Never mind John McCain's jibe at those who challenge the consensus on American 'might is right', the US needs this debate
Stephen Kinzer, Guardian, Sunday 24 March 2013 07.30 EDT
Slowly but perceptibly, the stirrings of a new debate are being heard in Washington and beyond. It is about a principle that has not been open to serious debate for generations: whether an interventionist, military-oriented foreign policy is the best way to guarantee America's power and security, or whether more modesty and humility would be wiser.
Republicans and Democrats – albeit in small numbers – are starting to question the existing paradigm. Senator Rand Paul, a Republican who is said to be contemplating a presidential run in 2016, won national attention this month for his filibuster on questions related to the use of drone aircraft. He has asserted that "a more restrained foreign policy is the true conservative foreign policy" and that "to involve our troops in further conflicts that hold no vital US interests is wrong."
A handful of Democrats have been saying much the same for years, but they have always been dismissed as knaves or fools dwelling on the political fringe. Seeing even a few Republicans joining them is refreshing and long-overdue. They are evidently driven by budget pressures as much as by concern over a bloated defense budget and the "blowback" that often follows American intervention. Whatever their motivation, they have good reason to wonder whether the United States really needs more than 700 military bases around the world, or 50,000 soldiers in Germany, or numbingly expensive weapons systems like the F-35 fighter jet.
Every American president since the second world war has embraced the muscular, interventionist security paradigm that holds Washington in its grip. Its results can be seen in the wreckage of wars and covert operations from Central America to Central Asia, from Indochina to the Middle East.
Americans who reject this paradigm are rebelling against the "liberal internationalism" promoted by John F Kennedy and George HW Bush, and also against the "neo-conservatism" of Dick Cheney and George W Bush.
What, then, do we call ourselves?
Senator John McCain, a pillar of the long-reigning militarist establishment, gave us a delightful name when he railed last week against "wacko birds on right and left". We should embrace it. Our next step would be to produce a Wacko Bird manifesto defining what we are for and against.
Wacko Birds are not true isolationists. We do not want the United States to withdraw from the world, but to intervene carefully and thoughtfully, with military force as a last resort.
We care passionately about what happens in the world and want to contribute seriously to processes that truly benefit people far away. If women are being oppressed in Egypt or children are being forced to join armies in the Congo, for example, it is not only acceptable but wonderful for Americans to be concerned, outraged, and active. Wacko Birds, however, realize that the power of the American state, vast as it is, cannot smash cultural patterns that have existed far longer than the United States.
Nor are Wacko Birds anti-interventionist absolutists. We recognize that it is neither desirable nor possible for the United States to ignore the rest of the world and retreat behind its own borders. For better or worse, the United States is and will remain a global power. That implies and, indeed, requires global engagement. In choosing how and where we intervene, however, we want to be prudent and conservative, not lustful and promiscuous.
We would also like to find more creative ways to intervene abroad than the three the United States now uses: aid, bullying, and bombing. Those cannot be the only options available to a great and much-admired nation.
Wacko Birds recognize the need for diplomatic compromise. We do not insist on bringing other countries to their knees or forcing them to accept dictates from Washington. Often, these dictates bring grief not only to the countries on the receiving end, but to the United States itself. We do not demand that the United States always have its way. Instead, we are open to arrangements that include concessions to other countries as a way to reduce global tension – which is always in the American interest.
Another key to the Wacko Bird manifesto would be a narrow definition of vital interests. Having interests that are truly vital implies a willingness to wage war to defend them. Therefore, it behooves every country to keep its list of vital interests as short as possible.
It is truly vital for the United States to assure that it is not attacked with weapons of mass destruction; to prevent wars in other countries from spreading onto American soil; and to maintain access to global sea lanes on which our economy depends. Beyond that, there is little or nothing in the world that should draw the United States to war.
3) Syrian opposition in disarray as its leader resigns
Liz Sly, Washington Post, March 24
Beirut - Syria's opposition coalition was on the verge of collapse Sunday after its president resigned and rebel fighters rejected its choice to head an interim government, leaving a U.S.-backed effort to forge a united front against President Bashar al-Assad in tatters.
The resignation of Moaz al-Khatib, a moderate Sunni preacher who heads the Syrian Opposition Coalition, climaxed a bitter internal fight over a range of issues, from the appointment of an interim government to a proposal by Khatib to launch negotiations with the Syrian regime.
His departure plunged the opposition into disarray at a time when the United States and its Western allies are stepping up their support for moderates opposed to Assad's regime. Khatib's coalition was expected to play a key role in identifying the recipients and channeling the assistance.
The coalition later issued a statement saying that its members had rejected Khatib's resignation and had asked him to continue in a "management" capacity, leaving his status unclear. Though Khatib's suggestion earlier this year that the opposition should negotiate with Assad's regime met with fierce resistance from other coalition members, he is widely liked by many Syrians inside the country who desperately want to see an end to the violence.
There nonetheless seems to be little doubt that an initiative launched last fall in the Qatari capital, Doha, to create an inclusive and representative opposition body is falling apart, said Amr al-Azm, a history professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio who is Syrian and supports the opposition. "The coalition is on verge of disintegrating," he said. "It's a big mess."
4) Hot Money Blues
Paul Krugman, New York Times, March 24, 2013
Whatever the final outcome in the Cyprus crisis - we know it's going to be ugly; we just don't know exactly what form the ugliness will take - one thing seems certain: for the time being, and probably for years to come, the island nation will have to maintain fairly draconian controls on the movement of capital in and out of the country. In fact, controls may well be in place by the time you read this. And that's not all: Depending on exactly how this plays out, Cypriot capital controls may well have the blessing of the International Monetary Fund, which has already supported such controls in Iceland.
That's quite a remarkable development. It will mark the end of an era for Cyprus, which has in effect spent the past decade advertising itself as a place where wealthy individuals who want to avoid taxes and scrutiny can safely park their money, no questions asked. But it may also mark at least the beginning of the end for something much bigger: the era when unrestricted movement of capital was taken as a desirable norm around the world.
It wasn't always thus. In the first couple of decades after World War II, limits on cross-border money flows were widely considered good policy; they were more or less universal in poorer nations, and present in a majority of richer countries too. Britain, for example, limited overseas investments by its residents until 1979; other advanced countries maintained restrictions into the 1980s. Even the United States briefly limited capital outflows during the 1960s.
Over time, however, these restrictions fell out of fashion. To some extent this reflected the fact that capital controls have potential costs: they impose extra burdens of paperwork, they make business operations more difficult, and conventional economic analysis says that they should have a negative impact on growth (although this effect is hard to find in the numbers). But it also reflected the rise of free-market ideology, the assumption that if financial markets want to move money across borders, there must be a good reason, and bureaucrats shouldn't stand in their way.
As a result, countries that did step in to limit capital flows - like Malaysia, which imposed what amounted to a curfew on capital flight in 1998 - were treated almost as pariahs. Surely they would be punished for defying the gods of the market!
But the truth, hard as it may be for ideologues to accept, is that unrestricted movement of capital is looking more and more like a failed experiment.
It's hard to imagine now, but for more than three decades after World War II financial crises of the kind we've lately become so familiar with hardly ever happened. Since 1980, however, the roster has been impressive: Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Chile in 1982. Sweden and Finland in 1991. Mexico again in 1995. Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Korea in 1998. Argentina again in 2002. And, of course, the more recent run of disasters: Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Cyprus.
What's the common theme in these episodes? Conventional wisdom blames fiscal profligacy - but in this whole list, that story fits only one country, Greece. Runaway bankers are a better story; they played a role in a number of these crises, from Chile to Sweden to Cyprus. But the best predictor of crisis is large inflows of foreign money: in all but a couple of the cases I just mentioned, the foundation for crisis was laid by a rush of foreign investors into a country, followed by a sudden rush out.
I am, of course, not the first person to notice the correlation between the freeing up of global capital and the proliferation of financial crises; Harvard's Dani Rodrik began banging this drum back in the 1990s. Until recently, however, it was possible to argue that the crisis problem was restricted to poorer nations, that wealthy economies were somehow immune to being whipsawed by love-'em-and-leave-'em global investors. That was a comforting thought - but Europe's travails demonstrate that it was wishful thinking.
And it's not just Europe. In the last decade America, too, experienced a huge housing bubble fed by foreign money, followed by a nasty hangover after the bubble burst. The damage was mitigated by the fact that we borrowed in our own currency, but it's still our worst crisis since the 1930s.
Now what? I don't expect to see a wholesale, sudden rejection of the idea that money should be free to go wherever it wants, whenever it wants. There may well, however, be a process of erosion, as governments intervene to limit both the pace at which money comes in and the rate at which it goes out. Global capitalism is, arguably, on track to become substantially less global.
And that's O.K. Right now, the bad old days when it wasn't that easy to move lots of money across borders are looking pretty good.
5) Guantanamo Bay Hunger Strike Worsens As Hopes For Prison's Closing Fade
Over 80 prisoners continue to be detained at the infamous jail despite being cleared for release
John Knefel, Rolling Stone, March 21, 2013 11:30 AM ET
First it was five or six. Then it was 14. Then 24, and now 25. Those are the number of Guantánamo Bay detainees on hunger strike that the Department of Defense has officially acknowledged over the course of the past month. Defense attorneys for the detainees say the real number of those on hunger strike is, shockingly, as high as 100. Eight of the hunger strikers are being force-fed through a tube, a process the United Nations has previously classified as torture. Two hunger strikers have been hospitalized for dehydration.
The strike seems to have been set off by a search of detainees belongings' by guards in February, which resulted in what many detainees considered a desecration of the Koran. Guantánamo Bay spokesperson Navy Captain Robert Durand has denied that any mishandling of the holy book happened, or that the search in question was anything other than routine. But there is a deeper reason underlying this coordinated protest – namely, Guantánamo Bay's apparent permanence.
As it becomes increasingly clear that President Obama has no plans to shutter the world's most infamous indefinite detention facility, any trace of optimism seems to have vanished from detainees on the base. There are still 166 prisoners there, 86 of whom have been cleared for release but continue to be detained despite the lack of danger they pose. Many of those 86 are Yemenis, who are barred from being transferred back to their home country after a 2010 Obama-issued moratorium on releasing prisoners to that country.
One Yemeni detainee, Adnan Latif, had been cleared for release by both Bush and Obama administration officials, and a federal judge ordered him released as well. Obama's Department of Justice appealed that judge's ruling and won. Latif was ultimately held for over a decade without charge; he died in September 2012, though the circumstances around his death remain murky.
I've been to Guantánamo Bay twice to cover the early stages of the military trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Public affairs officers there have told me that many detainees live in a relatively unrestricted environment – a claim that should be taken with the appropriate grain of salt. It's common to hear government officials say things like "Gitmo of 2013 isn't Gitmo of 2002." Even some former human rights advocates have staked out that position.
But what that argument fails to acknowledge is that indefinite detention, either explicit or de facto, causes extreme psychological trauma. Holding people based on their country of origin after they've been cleared for release is a shameful policy – and yet one that has bi-partisan support, and one which too many liberals seem to be comfortable with. The Guantánamo Bay spokesperson said that protests like the hunger strike are "coordinated acts specifically designed to attract media attention." In a country that has all but forgotten about Guantánamo Bay, increased media attention on that prison would be a welcome change.
6) Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With C.I.A. Aid
C. J. Chivers and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, March 24, 2013
With help from the C.I.A., Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria's opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, according to air traffic data, interviews with officials in several countries and the accounts of rebel commanders.
The airlift, which began on a small scale in early 2012 and continued intermittently through last fall, expanded into a steady and much heavier flow late last year, the data shows. It has grown to include more than 160 military cargo flights by Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari military-style cargo planes landing at Esenboga Airport near Ankara, and, to a lesser degree, at other Turkish and Jordanian airports.
As it evolved, the airlift correlated with shifts in the war within Syria, as rebels drove Syria's army from territory by the middle of last year. And even as the Obama administration has publicly refused to give more than "nonlethal" aid to the rebels, the involvement of the C.I.A. in the arms shipments - albeit mostly in a consultative role, American officials say - has shown that the United States is more willing to help its Arab allies support the lethal side of the civil war.
From offices at secret locations, American intelligence officers have helped the Arab governments shop for weapons, including a large procurement from Croatia, and have vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive, according to American officials speaking on the condition of anonymity. The C.I.A. declined to comment on the shipments or its role in them.
The shipments also highlight the competition for Syria's future between Sunni Muslim states and Iran, the Shiite theocracy that remains Mr. Assad's main ally. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Iraq on Sunday to do more to halt Iranian arms shipments through its airspace; he did so even as the most recent military cargo flight from Qatar for the rebels landed at Esenboga early Sunday night.
The former American official noted that the size of the shipments and the degree of distributions are voluminous. "People hear the amounts flowing in, and it is huge," he said. "But they burn through a million rounds of ammo in two weeks."
7) Israel restores tax transfers to Palestinians following Obama visit
Joel Greenberg, Washington Post, Monday, March 25, 9:27 AM
Jerusalem - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has authorized a resumption of the monthly transfer of taxes and customs duties collected by Israel for the Palestinian Authority, his spokesman said Monday, providing badly needed relief for the cash-strapped Palestinian government in the West Bank.
The move, coming days after a visit by President Obama, reverses an Israeli decision to suspend the regular tax transfers as punishment for the successful Palestinian bid in November to become a nonmember observer state at the United Nations.
The taxes and customs duties handed over by Israel, about $100 million a month, amount to two-thirds of the Palestinian Authority's domestic revenue. The authority has been struggling to pay salaries of about 150,000 employees because of disruptions in the Israeli transfers and a falloff of funds from foreign donors, particularly from Arab states.
Palestinian teachers, health workers and other civil servants have staged strikes after failing to receive their monthly wages.
Israel twice released Palestinian tax funds collected in December and January to avert a deepening of the fiscal crisis, but the overall suspension of the regular transfers remained in force until Netanyahu's decision was announced Monday.
Although Israel has suspended tax transfers in the past as a punitive measure against the Palestinians, it has also sought to avert a collapse of the Palestinian Authority, with which it has effective security cooperation that has led to a sharp drop in attacks on Israelis.
The tax transfers include customs duties that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority for imports coming through Israeli ports, value-added taxes levied on large Palestinian purchases of Israeli goods, and excise taxes on fuel sold to the Palestinians. The funds are transferred under an economic agreement that followed the 1993 Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinians.
8) Amid Fears of Releases, U.S. Cedes Prisons to Afghanistan
Rod Nordland and Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, March 25, 2013
Bagram, Afghanistan - The American military formally transferred all but "a small number" of the Afghan prisoners at the Bagram Prison to the Afghan government on Monday in a ceremony that almost, but not quite, marked the end of the American involvement in the long-term detention of insurgents here.
The transfer, in which the Americans were ceding control to the Afghan government over which Taliban will be released, was a choice of long-term influence in Afghanistan - by trying to improve the chances of negotiating an American presence here after 2014 - over holding firm in a thorny disagreement.
The Bagram commander, Gen. Ghulam Farouk Barakzai, said that the Americans had given the Afghans control of a total of 4,000 prisoners in the last year since the transfer began but that a small number still remained in American custody. He would not say how many or for how long they might be held by the Americans.
If recent history is any guide, the decisions the Afghans make on Taliban releases after taking control are not likely to reassure the American military.
Among those released in recent years by Afghan officials or Afghan courts were most of the 46 Taliban prisoners who had been returned from the Guantánamo Bay prison camp. One became the top insurgent commander in southern Afghanistan: Maulavi Abdul Qayum Zakir, whose real name is Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul. He was released from an Afghan prison in late 2008, just before the American troop surge was to start. Another was the suicide bomber who in December very nearly killed Asadullah Khalid, the head of the Afghan intelligence service. The attacker had previously been freed by a presidential pardon, according to officials of that agency.
Keenly aware of such cases, American military commanders had stubbornly insisted that they retain some control over decisions about releasing prisoners, which in turn led to a toxic, protracted dispute with the government of PresidentHamid Karzai.
Now, however, the Americans have given in, their eyes on a post-2014 security deal seen as critical to keeping insurgents from returning and keeping tabs on two of Afghanistan's worrisome neighbors, Iran and Pakistan, officials said. Western and Afghan officials interviewed about the issue spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive negotiations. The handover ceremony came just hours before the new American secretary of state, John Kerry, arrived in Kabul for talks with President Karzai.
"It's all part of the bilateral security agreement; it's about a shift that's going on in how the U.S. is looking at what's important," said one American official knowledgeable about detention issues. "We have to look at the larger picture: What's the U.S. strategic interest here?"
The Americans have long argued for a nonjudicial review process and a way to hold insurgent prisoners in long-term administrative detention, because of the difficulty of building criminal cases under battlefield conditions. Americans have argued that without such a system, soldiers in the field may be tempted to kill rather than capture insurgents. Afghan officials objected that administrative detention was unconstitutional.
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