By Claire Truscott
KABUL — Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered the release of numerous dangerous criminals and drug traffickers detained by US-led coalition forces, leaked American diplomatic cables revealed Tuesday.
New York Times, Oct.28, 2009: "Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials." (Photo: Banaras Khan/AFP)
American officials said they had repeatedly rebuked the president and Afghan attorney general Muhammad Ishaq Alko for authorising the release of detainees over a three-year period.
"Both authorize the release of detainees pre-trial and allow dangerous individuals to go free or re-enter the battlefield without ever facing an Afghan court," said a cable dated August 2009 and classified as "secret" by then-US deputy ambassador to Afghanistan Francis Ricciardone.
"Despite our complaints and expressions of concern to the GIRoA (Afghan government), pre-trial releases continue," it said.
Internet whistleblower WikiLeaks has begun releasing a quarter of a million confidential US diplomatic cables, detailing embarrassing and inflammatory episodes in what the White House called a "reckless and dangerous action".
In the August 2009 cable, American officials said that since 2007, 150 of the 629 detainees transferred from coalition to Afghan custody had been released without trial.
It said Karzai had pardoned five border policemen in April 2009 who were caught with 124 kilograms (273 pounds) of heroin in their police vehicle and had been sentenced to terms of 16 to 18 years in prison.
They were pardoned "on the grounds that they were distantly related to two individuals who had been martyred during the civil war," the cable noted.
The document said Karzai also intervened in a narcotics case involving the son of a wealthy businessman and one of his supporters.
The president ordered a second investigation "without any constitutional authority" it said, which found the defendant had been framed.
The latest cable strikes at the heart of Western fears that high-level corruption within the Afghan government and judiciary is undermining the nine-year war against the Taliban.
Last week the attorney general, a key ally of the president, was accused of playing politics over a criminal probe into the country's fraud-marred parliamentary elections that were held in September.
The probe has queried the disqualification of 24 poll candidates by the country's top electoral body.
Election results released last week are said to have weakened support for the president, who has allies among those disqualified.
The president's office and attorney-general's office were not immediately available for comment over the latest disclosure.
On Monday, Afghanistan said its relations with the United States would not be affected by earlier leaked cables portraying Karzai as weak and paranoid, and his brother as a corrupt drugs baron.
US ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, has condemned the WikiLeaks' release and reiterated American commitment "to building and strengthening a long-term partnership with the Afghan people and the Afghan government".
"Our shared goals do not change based on the release of purported diplomatic reporting from the past," Eikenberry said.