WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has moved 11 new prisoners out of a military prison near the Afghan capital, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, as the Obama administration seeks to shut down a controversial detainee program in Afghanistan ahead of its troop withdrawal.
Nine prisoners were repatriated to Pakistan last week from the Parwan detention center, located on a military base near Kabul, said Lieutenant Colonel Myles Caggins III, a U.S. military spokesman.
Another two prisoners were sent to Yemen this week, Caggins added. The prisoners were handed to the governments of their home countries.
The Obama administration has been quietly moving prisoners out of the secretive prison as the United States and its NATO allies wind down their long military mission in Afghanistan.
All U.S. troops are set to leave Afghanistan, in the grips of a political crisis following a disputed presidential election, by Jan. 1, 2015 unless the country finalizes a deal that would permit some foreign soldiers to stay behind.
But in closing Parwan, like the much larger Guantanamo Bay U.S. military prison in Cuba, the Obama administration risks political backlash from several directions.
Human rights advocates have criticized long detentions for suspects in U.S. military prisons since 2001, most of whom have never been charged with a crime. Such groups also express concerns about turning over prisoners for further detention in countries with poor human rights records.
Republicans have condemned the Obama administration’s release of other detainees, who critics say could easily return to militant activity.
The identities of the detainees at Parwan, who have also included citizens of Tunisia, Russia and Jordan, have largely been a mystery, as has the reason for their imprisonment.
The Yemeni Human Rights Ministry said earlier this year that one of the two men sent back to Yemen last week was captured in Thailand.
The International Justice Network, which challenged the two men’s detention in U.S. courts, said in a statement on its website that both of them were taken prisoner outside of Afghanistan and were “coercively interrogated” at “secret prisons” before being sent to Afghanistan.
Reporting by Missy Ryan. Editing by Andre Grenon