White House denies deal to release Taliban leaders

The Guardian (UK) reported yesterday, citing anonymous sources, that the Obama administration had already decided to release several senior Taliban commanders held at Guantanamo. The commanders’ freedom was to be part of a quid pro quo agreement with the Taliban, leading to new peace talks between the two sides. (Specifically, the report indicated that the administration was to free the commanders in exchange for the Taliban’s deciding to open a new “political office” in Qatar.)

According to The Atlantic Wire, however, the White House has now disputed the Guardian’s report:

In a statement to The Atlantic Wire, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor dismissed the The Guardian’s story. “This report is not accurate,” he said. “The United States has not decided to release any Taliban officials from Guantanamo Bay in return for the Taliban’s agreement to open a political office for peace negotiations.”

Note that Mr. Vietor did not dispute the possibility that the Taliban commanders could be freed at some point in the future. He simply denied that the administration had “decided to release” them as part of a quid pro quo deal with the Taliban.

It is worth noting that an earlier version of this story, published by Reuters, indicated that the administration would consult with Congress before making any decisions. That may be necessary, given the restrictions Congress has placed on Guantanamo detainee transfers.

We do know for certain two things:

(1) The Taliban have sought to free several Taliban leaders as part of the nascent peace talks. These detainees have been profiled several times at The Long War Journal. See here, here, here, and here.

(2) The New York Times, Fox News, Reuters, and the Washington Post have all reported that the administration is at least considering acquiescing to the Taliban’s demands, relayed via the Afghan High Peace Council, which was set up to broker the peace talks.

The Post‘s version, in fact, says that “in late November, the administration reached a tentative agreement with the Taliban under which five Afghans detained at Guantanamo Bay would have been transferred to house arrest in Qatar, where an office would be opened, in exchange for the militant group’s public renunciation of international terrorism.” This arrangement, according to the Post’s reporting, was originally nixed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who later reversed course and agreed to some sort of deal. But the Post also stated that “[i]t was unclear whether the prisoner transfer was still under discussion.”

Keep in mind that all five of the Taliban leaders mentioned as possible bargaining chips have extensive ties to al Qaeda, according to declassified and leaked Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) documents. A key goal of the peace talks, according to press accounts, is to have the Taliban renounce al Qaeda and its terrorism.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Devin Leonard says:

    They should NOT be released unless the Taliban does far more to convince us that they are serious about laying down thier arms and giving up the fight. And if these Taliban are released they should be tracked and killed if they resume thier guerilla lifestyle!

  • Brian Higgins says:

    A diplomatic compromise with Taliban leadership is conceivable, but the immediate fact that we are reading published news stories about it (again) is proof it won’t happen. It’s proof this administration doesn’t know how to deal with the enemy. He assumes everbody has a price. Ha! The price is Paradise.

  • Jeff Edelman says:

    It’s a done deal, boys. You can count on it. Barack Hussein Obama is just waiting for the right moment when with the complicity of the media the act will go mostly unnoticed. It seems, correct me if I’m wrong, he did a similar deal in the Irag War in a hostage swap.

  • mike merlo says:

    With VP Biden involved one can be sure that this is a done deal. Right now the Administration is probably scrambling to ascertain the political fallout before ‘pulling the trigger’ on this.
    With the recategorization of terrorist extraordinaire/mass murderer Mullah Omar by the FBI the Administration is obviously willing to throw its own ‘under the bus.’
    Unless of course this is some hare brained scheme hatched in some basement somewhere designed in some way to create chaos beyond Iran’s, Pakistan & Communist China’s capacity to manage.

  • PA says:

    This is madness. The idea that you can trust any single one of them, the idea that you can differentiate between Taliban and Al Qaeda at this stage is madness, plain simple madness.

  • Hazara (USA) says:

    What gives USA the right to release those involved in the Genocide of the Hazara people in Afghanistan? The Taliban and their proxies – Pakistan, USA, UAE, Qatar, and their Arab brethren – are responsible for the Genocide of Hazaras in Mazar-e Sharif (2000 to 15000 killed, women raped, children missing to this day), Yakawlang (500 to 700 massacred), Bamyan (hundreds killed). They destroyed the Hazara cultural heritage – the giant Buddhas of Bamyan, the statues that were preserved by the Hazaras for over 2000 years. In addition, they are now involved in the genocide of Hazaras in Pakistan.
    See details in //www.hazara.net
    If the US does not have the guts to lead in these conflicts, it ought to stay home. but nothing gives US and Nato any rights in releasing these genocidal maniacs!!


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