The U.S. has closed its controversial detention center near Bagram Air Base, leaving it with no prisoners in Afghanistan, after it turned over two Tunisian prisoners mentioned in the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on CIA interrogation techniques to Afghan authorities, defense officials told NBC News on Wednesday.
Redha al-Najar, a Tunisian who was suspected of having been one of Osama bin Laden's bodyguards, had been in U.S. custody since May 2002. A defense official said al-Najar and a second Tunisian, Lutfi al-Arbai al-Gharisi, were turned over to Afghan authorities Wednesday, just a day after the Senate report detailed what it characterized as widespread abuses of U.S. detainees since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A Jordanian detainee was also released for repatriation, the officials said.
The Pentagon told NBC News that it "no longer operates detention facilities in Afghanistan nor maintains custody of any detainees" after the final handover. Under Washington's agreement with Kabul, the handoff to Afghanistan wasn't due to go into effect until Jan. 1. Defense officials said they couldn't explain why the U.S. was getting out three weeks early.
A spokesperson for the State Department would neither confirm nor deny the detainees' identities. The spokesperson told NBC News that the transfers were due to the Jan. 1 deadline and were "not linked to the release of the Senate committee report on detention and interrogation."
But Tina Foster, al-Najar's attorney, said her client — one of the first detainees to have been subjected to the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques" — and other detainees were shuttled among various detention centers for years "to avoid scrutiny by U.S. courts." She said al-Najar was turned over less than a week before the U.S. government was to have filed a response to the Supreme Court about his treatment.
DoD News, the Pentagon's in-house news service, earlier Wednesday quoted Army Maj. Gen. John M. Murray, deputy commander for support for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, as saying U.S. and coalition personnel had already shifted to their new missions advising Afghan forces and government officials.
"That's where the coalition work is being done now," Murray said. "That's the crux of Operation Resolute Support" — the Pentagon's name for the handover to Afghanistan.
Many names in the Senate report that was released Tuesday are redacted, and it is difficult to correlate specific detainees with the treatment the Senate investigators said they were subjected to. But the names of both al-Najar and al-Gharisi, about whom little is known, are listed in an attached database that records that they were in CIA custody beginning in 2002, at a time when the report says CIA interrogators were using harsh techniques like waterboarding, facial and abdomen slapping and "rectal hydration" to induce detainees' cooperation.
The CIA held al-Najar for almost 700 days and al-Gharisi for a little more than a year, according to the report. Foster said al-Najar was subjected to isolation in total darkness, loud music, cold temperatures, sleep deprivation, hooding and shackling, sometimes for as long as 22 hours a day.
Abigail Williams of NBC News contributed to this report.