KABUL (Reuters) -- The Taliban have condemned plans to transfer control of the U.S. military's Bagram prison to the Afghan government, saying it will lead to worse conditions for those held there, most of them suspected militants.
Afghan officials at the weekend agreed to take over responsibility for the Bagram prison, located at the major U.S. airbase north of Kabul, a move that could close a chapter in the troubled history of U.S. detentions since 2001.
"If the prison is handed over to these elements who are enemies of the Afghans, no one can expect them [to do] any good," insurgents said in an English language statement on a Taliban-linked website (www.alemarah.info).
"The squalid conditions of the prisoners will go from bad to worse and the miserable detainees would long for the past," it added, saying that Afghans would "give vent" to linguistic, ideological and geographical prejudices by torturing prisoners.
The Taliban have traditionally drawn most of their support from the Pashtun ethnic group, while the warlords that ousted them from power with U.S. backing in 2001 come mostly from Afghanistan's other minority groups.
The jail at Bagram, where U.S. troops beat to death two prisoners in 2002, stands beside Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Abu Ghraib in Iraq as a symbol of harsh treatment of detainees under the administration of U.S. ex-President George W. Bush.
Many of the scores of former detainees have complained of being maltreated or persecuted during their detentions, and the jail has drawn stern criticism from rights groups for holding many inmates for years without trial.
The Afghan government will gain full access to the prison, where some 750 people are being held, at the end of this year.
Set up to hold prisoners caught in the campaign against the Taliban after the September 11 attacks on the United States, it was housed for eight years in an ex-Soviet aircraft hangar, until last month when that was shut and replaced with a purpose-built $60 million prison Washington says meets international standards.
U.S. forces have long said the goal was eventually to hand the prison over to Afghans. President Hamid Karzai has called for an end to detentions by foreign countries on Afghan soil.