By Amir Shah
Monday, January 17, 2005; Page A11
KABUL, Afghanistan, Jan. 16 -- The U.S. military on Sunday freed 81 prisoners who had been held in Afghanistan, according to Afghan officials, and the country's senior judge said the government was pressing for the release of hundreds more from U.S. custody.
President Hamid Karzai's office said the prisoners were freed before the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha, which begins Thursday, thanks to cooperation between the government and the U.S. military.
"Bringing happiness to a Muslim family during Eid is a great reward, and our people should also live joyfully during Eid like other Muslims around the world," the president said in a statement.
Two buses brought the 81 Afghan prisoners from the main U.S. base at Bagram to the Supreme Court in the capital, Kabul, where the chief justice warned them to stay out of trouble and say little about their detention.
"Don't sabotage the security or the government, and God will be pleased with you," Sheik Hadi Shinwari told the men, seated in a hall at the court before being allowed to go home.
A presidential aide said on condition of anonymity that the men were held at Bagram, in the southeastern city of Khost and in the southern city of Kandahar. Court officials initially announced that the men had been released from the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but later said they were mistaken.
Four of those freed told reporters they had been held for between 8 1/2 months and two years. The men said they were interrogated repeatedly about militant activities, and all said they were innocent. None complained of abuse.
"They questioned me a lot, but I told them I don't know anything about contacts with the Taliban or al Qaeda or how they are coming into our area," said Mohammed Afzal, a Khost man in his mid-twenties.
American and allied Afghan forces captured thousands of suspected Taliban and al Qaeda members in Afghanistan after a U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban government in late 2001.
Hundreds of detainees have been classified as enemy combatants and transferred to Guantanamo.
Shinwari said Afghan officials were negotiating for the release of about 400 people in U.S. custody in Afghanistan and others at Guantanamo.
Meanwhile, officials said a roadside bomb killed an Afghan soldier in eastern Konar province on Friday, an Afghan died trying to plant a similar device farther south on Saturday and a grenade attack injured a pro-government mullah in central Uruzgan province.© 2005 The Washington Post Company