It appears the White House is moving to transfer five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as an incentive to bring the Afghan insurgency closer to peace talks. In early January, White House officials denied a Guardian report that a "handful of Taliban figures" would be exchanged for the Taliban opening a political office in Qatar to launch negotiations. "This report is not accurate," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Atlantic Wire. "The United States has not decided to release any Taliban officials." It wasn't clear what was considered inaccurate about the story but reports this morning suggest the prisoner transfer is moving forward.
On Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper and CIA Director David Petraeus did not dispute the administration is considering transferring the five Taliban prisoners to a third country in a meeting before some members of Congress. The goal of transferring the prisoners to Qatar is to give Afghan and U.S. peace negotiators a place where they can negotiate with Taliban middlemen. Previously, Afghan President Hamid Karzai opposed the Qatar transfer because it undercut his authority. However, the Associated Press reports today that Afghan officials are now on board. "Recent discussions between Karzai and U.S. negotiators found a way around the Afghan objections," senior diplomats told the news wire. "The officials said Afghanistan could assume a sort of legal custody over the prisoners and then, with the prisoners' own consent, agree to consign them to house arrest in Qatar."
Adding to the speculation of an impending release, an administration official tells Politico's Josh Gerstein, "In wartime, this is the kind of thing you do. You do give up enemy officers. It happens." Referring to the arrangements in Qatar, the official said "They're very sound... They were honed with an appropriate attention to detail."
The next piece of evidence comes from Sen. John McCain who is opposed to the prisoner transfer. As Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin reported late last night, McCain attended a briefing with administration officials about the transfer. Before the briefing, McCain expressed his displeasure with the plan. "The whole idea that they're going to ‘transfer' these detainees in exchange for a statement by the Taliban? It is really, really bizarre," he said. "This whole thing is highly questionable because the Taliban know we are leaving. I know many experts who would say they are rope-a-doping us." Indicating that the administration is for the transfer, Politico's Charles Hoskinson reports this morning that McCain said "administration officials had ignored his objections to the idea, which he said was 'in exchange for a statement by the Taliban.'"
So what's the rap on these Taliban prisoners anyway? According to the AP:
The prisoners proposed for transfer include some of the detainees brought to Guantanamo during the initial days and weeks of the U.S. invasion that toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan in 2001. At least one has been accused in the massacre of thousands of Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan, according to U.S. and other assessments, but none are accused of directly killing Americans.