If it wasn’t a big enough slap in the face to the troops when Vice President Biden declared that ”The Taliban is not our enemy”, President Obama overrides the advice of the generals, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai to consider a proposal to transfer a top Taliban commander out of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay as part of a potential step toward peace talks with the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
Let’s look at Obama’s peace overtures:
Abdul Haq Wasiq, the former Taliban intelligence official, “had direct access to Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) leadership,” according to a JTF-GTMO threat assessment. Wasiq “was central to the Taliban’s efforts to form alliances with other Islamic fundamentalist groups to fight alongside the Taliban against U.S. and Coalition forces after the 11 September 2001 attacks.” JTF-GTMO concluded that Wasiq “utilized his office to support al Qaeda and to assist Taliban personnel elude capture” in late 2001. Wasiq also “arranged for al Qaeda personnel to train Taliban intelligence staff in intelligence methods.” Al Qaeda’s training of Taliban operatives, arranged by Wasiq, was reportedly conducted by Hamza Zubayr, a terrorist who was formerly an instructor at one of al Qaeda’s most important training camps. Zubayr was killed during the same September 2002 raid that netted 9/11 facilitator Ramzi Binalshibh. The assistance from Zubayr was crucially important to the Taliban’s intelligence efforts, according to the JTF-GTMO file, because many of the administrators in the Taliban Ministry of Intelligence “had no prior intelligence background.”
Another leaked JTF-GTMO summarizes the intelligence on Mullah Norullah Noori. JTF-GTMO describes Noori as a “senior Taliban military commander” who was engaged in hostilities “against U.S. and Coalition forces in late 2001.” Noori is “wanted by the United Nations (UN) for possible war crimes including the murder of thousands of Shiite Muslims.” When the JTF-GTMO threat assessment for Noori was authored in February 2008, his brother was still active in the fight against the Coalition. Noori’s “brother is a Taliban commander directing operations against U.S. and Coalition forces in Zabul Province.” Noori himself “remained a significant figure to Taliban supporters” even after his capture.
In addition to his ties to Mullah Omar and other senior Taliban leaders, Noori was “associated with…senior al Qaeda members and other extremist organizations.”
Declassified memos authored at Guantanamo provide more details about Noori’s al Qaeda ties. Noori “fought alongside al Qaeda as a Taliban military general, against the Northern Alliance” in September 1995. Noori also “hosted al Qaeda commanders” and “met a subordinate of Osama bin Laden to pass a message from the Taliban supreme leader” – that is, a message from Mullah Omar.
Mullah Mohammad Fazl was one of the Taliban’s most experienced commanders prior to his capture in November 2001. Like Noori, according to another leaked JTF-GTMO file, Fazl is “wanted by the UN for possible war crimes including the murder of thousands of Shiites.” Fazl “was associated with terrorist groups currently opposing U.S. and Coalition forces including al Qaeda, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), and an Anti-Coalition Militia group known as Harakat-i-Inqilab-i-Islami.” Fazl had “operational associations with significant al Qaeda and other extremist personnel,” according to JTF-GTMO. One of the high-ranking al Qaeda commanders Fazl long cooperated with was Abdel Hadi al Iraqi, who led Osama bin Laden’s Arab 055 Brigade in the Taliban’s Afghanistan. The 055 Brigade was bin Laden’s chief fighting force and served alongside Taliban units.
Immediately “following the assassination of Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud in September 2001,” al Iraqi explained to US officials, “the Northern Alliance was demoralized” and the al Qaeda leader met with Fazl to “coordinate an attack with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance.” Prior to his detention, Fazl “wielded considerable influence throughout the northern region of Afghanistan and his influence continued after his capture.” Fazl’s “name and capture have been used in recruiting campaigns by the Taliban.” “If released,” JTF-GTMO warned in the February 2008 memo, Fazl “would likely rejoin the Taliban and establish ties with [Anti-Coalition Militia] elements participating in hostilities against U.S. and Coalition forces in Afghanistan.”
Khairullah Said Wali Khairkhwa, one of Mullah Omar’s closest confidantes prior to his capture. According to a JTF-GTMO file, Khairkhwa “was directly associated” with both Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. “Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks,” the leaked JTF-GTMO file reads, Khairkhwa “represented the Taliban during meetings with Iranian officials seeking to support hostilities against U.S. and Coalition Forces.” In June, a DC district court denied Khairkhwa’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, based in large part on his admitted role in brokering the Taliban’s post-9/11 deal with the Iranians.
As the governor of Afghanistan’s western Herat province, Khairkhwa and “his deputy were probably associated with a militant training camp in Herat operated by deceased al Qaeda commander (in Iraq) Abu Musab al Zarqawi.” In declassified memos prepared at Guantanamo, US officials alleged that Khairkhwa became a major drug trafficker as well. Khairkhwa reportedly built three walled compounds that he used to manage his opium trade. And he allegedly oversaw one of Osama bin Laden’s training facilities in Herat, too. One US government memo notes that only Khairkhwa or bin Laden himself “could authorize entrance” to the facility, which was one of bin Laden’s “most important bases” and “conducted terrorist training two times per week.”
A leaked State Department cable underscores the difficulties that both the Bush and Obama administrations have had in transferring war on terror detainees to Afghan custody. The cable, which originated at the US Embassy in Kabul on Aug. 6, 2009, notes that on “numerous occasions” American officials “have emphasized with Attorney General Aloko the need to end interventions by him and President Karzai, who both authorize the release of detainees pre-trial and allow dangerous individuals to go free or re-enter the battlefield without ever facing an Afghan court.”
The cable makes it clear that this is a problem with respect to several categories of detainees: those transferred from the American-run facility in Bagram to Afghan custody; those transferred from Guantanamo to Afghan custody; and narco-traffickers. When the Afghan government accepts transferred detainees, it is supposed to take certain security precautions. In some cases, the US government expects the Afghans to try them in their courts. It often doesn’t work out that way, however. The leaked State Department cable cites dozens of pre-trial releases that the US government found problematic.
Umm, whose side are you on here, Obama?