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Afghanistan to free 37 Bagram inmates despite U.S. protests

Anja Niedringhaus / AP, file

An Afghan prisoner leaves with his belongings from the Parwan Detention Facility in March 2013.

KABUL — Afghanistan will release 37 inmates from one of its prisons despite protests from the United States that they are "dangerous insurgents" with "blood on their hands," according to a statement by American forces Monday.

The 37 prisoners are part of a larger group of 88 who Afghan officials want to free from a jail at Bagram Airfield, north of the capital Kabul.

The U.S. transferred control of the jail, the Parwan Detention Facility, to Afghan authorities in March last year after it became a growing source of tension with the government. A Pakistani human rights law firm warned in September that the prison was in danger of becoming another Guantanamo Bay where some inmates were being held without basic legal rights and on effective indefinite terms.

According to the statement by United States Forces-Afghanistan on Monday, there is strong evidence that 30 percent of this larger group of 88 have wounded or killed a total of 60 U.S. and coalition forces personnel.

Some 40 percent of these men have participated in direct attacks wounding or killing 57 Afghan citizens, the statement said.

Afghan officials set up a review board to look at the cases of the 88 inmates in response to the U.S.'s concerns. But the director of the board, Abdul Shakoor Dadras, told NBC News that after a "thorough investigation involving multiple government Ministries, we do not have any proof or see any reason to believe they are guilty."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke about the prison at a news conference Saturday where he implied that if an inmate released from Bagram went on to carry out attacks it would only because he had been wrongly detained by American forces.

He called Bagram a "Talib-making factory," adding that it is "a place where innocent people are tortured and insulted and made [into] dangerous criminals."

Tensions between the U.S. and Afghanistan have been at an all-time high in recent months because Karzai has repeatedly refused to sign a long-term strategic pact known as the Bilateral Security Agreement, or BSA.

Karzai's displeasure with the U.S. and the pressures to sign the agreement were on full display during the news conference.

"Neither pressure and threat nor psychological warfare against our people can make us sign the security pact," he said.