Pul-e-Charkhi prison

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Pul-e-Charkhi (Persian: زندان پل چرخی), also known as Afghan National Detention Facility, is the largest prison in Afghanistan east of Kabul. Construction of the jail began in the 1970s by order of former president Mohammed Daoud Khan and was completed during the 1980s. The prison became notorious for torture and executions after the 1978 Saur Revolution as well as during the 10 year Soviet war that followed.[1] Between April 1978 and the Soviet invasion of December 1979, the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) under Nur Muhammad Taraki executed around 27,000 political prisoners at Pul-i-Charki.[2] The Afghan National Army's 201st Corps is based nearby Pul-e-Charkhi.

The prison has been renovated in recent years by the help of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. In 2007, the U.S. military began transferring some of its detainees from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to the Pul-e-Charkhi prison. By January 2008, 125 detainees from Bagram dentention facility and 32 detainees from the U.S. Guantanamo Bay detention camp had been transferred to Pul-e-Charkhi.[3] By September 2009, the U.S. had transferred some 250 former detainees from its Guantánamo detention camp to Pul-e-Charkhi, often to the shock of their waiting families, according to Human Rights First (HRF).[4]


Mass grave

A communist-era mass grave, close to the Poli Charkhi prison, was discovered in December 2006 by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and is believed to hold some 2,000 bodies.[5][6] Officials of the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture believe that the massacre took place between 1978 and 1986 when the Moscow-backed communist presidents, Nur Muhammad Taraki, Hafizullah Amin and Babrak Karmal were in power.


Living conditions

The living conditions of the prison have been criticized by several human rights groups. The prison had been cited as overcrowded and the living conditions as sub-par. There are eight cell blocks but only three are being used which has caused overcrowding.[7] There are also about 70 female prisoners who are housed in a special female section of the prison.

Riots and escapes

Afghan National Army Military Police Brigade soldiers stand in formation during a ceremony to commemorate the opening of the new ANA Military Police School here. The brigade currently conducts detention and corrections operations at the Afghan National Detention Facility in Pol-e-Charkhi.

In December 2004, foreign prisoners attacked guards with razor blades. A subsequent shoot-out left one Iraqi and three Pakistani prisoners and four Afghan police dead. Then, in January 2006, seven prisoners escaped, apparently by mingling with visitors.

On 26 February 2006 riots were apparently sparked by a new prison policy forcing prisoners to wear bright orange clothing, the colored clothing rule was enacted to avoid events similar to the January escape. The February 2006 riot resulted in six deaths, and 22 injured in critical condition according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The rioters used makeshift weapons to attack guards, then ignited furniture, and smashed doors and windows. Eventually, they took over a wing of the prison which they held for a few days.

On 16 March 2008, after a two-week dispute over arrests following an attempted jail-break, inmates rioted and took over sections of the building. Gunfire was heard in the complex and inmates claimed to be holding hostage two Afghan national soldiers. The hostage-takers threatened to kill the captured soldiers unless mediators were sent in to resolve the conflict. As of 18 March the conflict remained unresolved and Afghan police and military were arriving in force in preparation to raid the prison.[8]

American expansion

The United States has repeatedly announced that it will be shutting down its Guantanamo Bay detention camps, in Cuba.[3] The Americans planned to transfer most of the captives held in extrajudicial detention in Guantanamo, and in its less well known Bagram Theater internment facility to Afghan custody. United States President Bush negotiated a tentative deal with Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the Afghans would accept prisoners from the Americans if the Americans expanded and modernized Afghan facilities and trained, and paid the salaries of the additional Afghan guards that would be required.

The initial plan called for reducing the maximum number of men held per cell from the current eight, to just two.[3] For security reasons every cell would be equipped with its own toilet, replacing the current insecure method of letting all the captives leave their cells and share a single toilet at the end of each cell-block.

Under this initial plan the modernization of this wing would cost $20 million USD, and would have a maximum capacity of 670 captives.[3] However, after a tour of the facility, during its modernization, it was realized that, for cultural reason, captives could not be expected to share a toilet with another man. Afghan's cultural modesty would not allow a captive to use a toilet with another man present, cutting the capacity of the modernized facility in half.

On May 6, 2007, two American soldiers, Colonel James W. Harrison Jr. and Master Sergeant Wilberto Sabalu, part of the oversight team, were shot dead by one of the Afghan guards.[3] This forced a delay on construction as all the guards underwent new security checks.

Finally, there was controversy within the Afghan Cabinet as to which ministry would be responsible for the modernized part of the prison.[3]

By January 2008, 32 captives from the US Guantanamo facility and 125 captives from the US Bagram detention center had been transferred to Pul-e-Charkhi.[3] The Center for Constitutional Rights reported that all of the Afghans repatriated to Afghanistan from April 2007 were sent to the Pul-e-Charkhi prison.[9]

In February 2009 a team from the United Kingdom's Channel 4 toured the American wing of the prison.[10]

By September 2009 the US had transferred some 250 former detainees from its Guantanamo Bay detention camp to Pul-e-Charkhi, often to the shock of their waiting families, according to Human Rights First (HRF).[4]


  1. Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response, 1979-1982 M. Hassan Kakar. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1995. ISBN 0-520-20893-5 Prisoners of Pul-e-Charkhi
  2. Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Robert D. Kaplan. Vintage, 2001. ISBN 1-4000-3025-0 p.115
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Tim Golden (January 7, 2008). "Defying U.S. Plan, Prison Expands in Afghanistan". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/07/world/asia/07bagram.html?ref=asia&pagewanted=all. Retrieved 2008-01-07. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 No Place Like Home
  5. Communist era mass grave discovered hightlights need for post-war justice, IRIN, December 2002
  6. In pictures: Afghan mass grave BBC, July 5, 2007
  7. Pul-e-Charkhi Jail inmates face awful life
  8. "Shooting Rocks main Afghan Prison BBC News 18 March 2008
  9. "International Travel". Center for Constitutional Rights. 2008. http://ccrjustice.org/files/CCR_Annual_Report_2008.pdf. Retrieved 2009-03-13. "CCR attorney Pardiss Kebriaei traveled to Kabul to follow the situation of Guantánamo prisoners being returned to Afghanistan. Since April 2007, all such prisoners have been sent to a U.S.-built detention facility within the Soviet era Pule-charkhi prison located outside Kabul."  mirror
  10. Nick Paton Walsh (2009-02-21). "Inside Afghanistan's 'Block D' prison". Channel 4. Archived from the original on 2010-02-11. http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.channel4.com%2Fnews%2Farticles%2Fpolitics%2Finternational_politics%2Finside%2Bafghanistans%2Bblock%2Bd%2Bprison%2F2976557&date=2010-02-11. "But we have learned of another secretive and controversial prison which is technically an Afghan jail where former inmates of Guantanamo and Taliban fighters are being held. Our correspondent Nick Paton Walsh has been to Block D in Kabul." 

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