Aged between 19 and 64 and looking pale and exhausted, the bearded men smiled and waved as they left the Afghan Supreme Court in Kabul to begin their journeys home.

At a brief hearing before their release, they were warned not to talk about their imprisonment, saying it could harm the prospects of those still held.

Most of those released from the Bagram air base said they had been well treated, but some complained of torture and of false arrest.

“I came out of my house to go to work and the Americans stopped me and arrested me,” 19 year old Shah Halim told the AFP newsagency.

“I spent one-and-a-half months in Kunar where they poured cold water on me and tortured me. After that I was taken to Bagram. There it was good and I was not tortured there,” he added.

“I have very bad memories of the interrogation because they were torturing us,” said 35 year old Abdul Manan. “But after the interrogation period was over, everything was all right.”

Others complained about being detained on the basis of false information given by fellow Afghans who held grudges against them.

The release was timed to coincide with the run-up to the Muslim festival of Eid, which marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage season, and was part of an attempt to bring moderate Taliban supporters in from the cold.

The Afghan authorities want to offer an amnesty to the foot soldiers of the ousted Taliban regime in return for their agreement to lay down their arms.

“As you know, culturally Eid is a time of forgiveness” Colonel David Lamm, the chief of staff for the US military in Afghanistan.

He said some of the detainees were not seen as high-level threats to the 18,000 strong US-led coalition forces stationed in the country.

Both the US military and the Afghan government want to reduce the number of prisoners held who don’t pose a security threat.

Thousands suspected of being members of al-Qaeda or the Taliban are still in custody following the overturning of the Taliban regime in 2001.

The Afghan government is also negotiating the release of 400 more prisoners in the country, and others held at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“The government doesn’t want one prisoner to be left in jail,” said Afghanistan’s chief justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari.

“They will be released.”

Washington has come under fire for its methods at detention centres in Afghanistan, where at least eight detainees have died since 2002.

It’s been accused of using excessive force, carrying out arbitrary detentions and mistreating people in custody.

The release and pledge to free more comes amid reports Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in peace talks with Taliban commanders to persuade them and their soldiers to give up their fight and return to normal life.

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