The earlier report we posted on “confidence building measures” noted that the U.S. “has asked representatives of the Taliban to match that confidence-building measure with some of their own. Those could include a denunciation of international terrorism and a public willingness to enter formal political talks with the government headed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.”
According to that account, we could be pledging American actions — big, risky ones — in exchange for words from the Taliban. What could possibly go wrong? After all, the Taliban don’t want Fazl and the other detainees back in Afghan custody just to visit: in Afghan custody, they stand to benefit from any number of “sudden” security lapses and inside help, as has occurred in the massive Kandahar prison break last year.
“U.S. mulls transfer of Taliban prisoner in perilous peace bid,” by Mark Hosenball, Missy Ryan and Warren Strobel for Reuters, December 29:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Obama administration is considering transferring to Afghan custody a senior Taliban official suspected of major human rights abuses as part of a long-shot bid to improve the prospects of a peace deal in Afghanistan, Reuters has learned.
The potential hand-over of Mohammed Fazl, a ‘high-risk detainee’ held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison since early 2002, has set off alarms on Capitol Hill and among some U.S. intelligence officials.
As a senior commander of the Taliban army, Fazl is alleged to be responsible for the killing of thousands of Afghanistan’s minority Shi’ite Muslims between 1998 and 2001.
According to U.S. military documents made public by WikiLeaks, he was also on the scene of a November 2001 prison riot that killed CIA operative Johnny Micheal Spann, the first American who died in combat in the Afghan war. There is no evidence, however, that Fazl played any direct role in Spann’s death.
Senior U.S. officials have said their 10-month-long effort to set up substantive negotiations between the weak government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban has reached a make-or-break moment. Reuters reported earlier this month that they are proposing an exchange of “confidence-building measures,” including the transfer of five detainees from Guantanamo and the establishment of a Taliban office outside of Afghanistan.
Now Reuters has learned from U.S. government sources the identity of one of the five detainees in question.
The detainees, the officials emphasized, would not be set free, but remain in some sort of further custody. It is unclear precisely what conditions they would be held under.
In response to inquiries by Reuters, a senior administration official said that the release of Fazl and four other Taliban members had been requested by the Afghan government and Taliban representatives as far back as 2005.
The debate surrounding the White House’s consideration of high-profile prisoners such as Fazl illustrates the delicate course it must tread both at home and abroad as it seeks to move the nascent peace process ahead.
One U.S. intelligence official said there had been intense bipartisan opposition in Congress to the proposed transfer.
“I can tell you that the hair on the back of my neck went up when they walked in with this a month ago, and there’s been very, very strong letters fired off to the administration,” the official said on condition of anonymity….