WASHINGTON — Most of the reaction to Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s release after five years as a captive of the Taliban has been celebratory, but a pair of lawmakers questioned whether the deal reached with the Taliban was legal and whether the price paid was too high.
The Army sergeant was held captive for nearly five years by the Taliban, mostly in Pakistan, U.S. officials believe, and the president, Defense secretary, secretary of State, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the sergeant’s parents all expressed relief and gratitude after 18 Taliban handed Bergdahl over to U.S. special forces in Afghanistan, spiriting him back into the care of the U.S. military.
Two senior Republican lawmakers, however, accused Obama of violating the law by failing to notify Congress 30 days before the deal to swap five members of the Taliban held at Guantanamo and voiced concerns that the U.S. gave up too much.
The top Republicans on the House and Senate armed-services committees cautioned that “we must carefully examine the means by which we secured [Bergdahl’s] freedom,” warning that the U.S. had effectively reneged on its policy not to negotiate with terrorists.
So what exactly did the U.S. give up to get Bergdahl back?
The U.S. has released five Taliban prisoners kept at Guantanamo Bay — all of them either senior Taliban figures or Taliban officials with connections to Taliban leaders, and all labeled by the Pentagon as highly dangerous to the security of the U.S. and its allies if released. They are:
- Mohammad Fazl, the former Taliban defense minister during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, chief of staff of the Taliban army, and commander of its 22nd Division. According to a U.S. Department of Defense document obtained by Wikileaks, Fazl is believed to be an associate of Supreme Taliban Commander Mullah Omar and was “wanted by the UN for possible war crimes including the murder of thousands of Shiites,” surrendered to the Northern Alliance commander Gen. Dostum in November 2001.
“Detainee is assessed to be a HIGH risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests, and allies,” his Guantanamo detainee file reads. “If released, detainee would likely rejoin the Taliban and establish ties with ACM [anti-coalition militia] elements participating in hostilities against US and Coalition forces in Afghanistan.”
- Mullah Norullah Noori, a former Taliban military commander and Taliban governor of two Afghan provinces, who led Taliban forces against U.S. and coalition troops and was also “wanted by the United Nations (UN) for possible war crimes including the murder of thousands of Shiite Muslims” as Fazl was, according to Noori’s Guantanamo prisoner file as obtained and posted by Wikileaks. He is also believed to be associated with Supreme Taliban Commander Mullah Omar.
Noori commanded the Taliban in the northern city of Mazar e-Sharif. Like Fazl, he surrendered to Gen. Dostum in 2001.
Rated a “HIGH” threat to U.S. security interests if released, Noori is or was associated with members of al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin.
- Mohammed Nabi, another senior Taliban official with ties to al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, and other anti-U.S., Taliban-allied groups, according to his Guantanamo Bay file as posted by Wikileaks.
Also rated as a “HIGH” security threat if released, Nabi fought with the mujahideen against the Soviets. After that, he told the Americans who captured and detained him, he was an off-and-on Taliban member in the early 2000s, worked for the chief of the Taliban’s Border Department, which controlled smuggling. In early spring of 2002, he left the Taliban to sell used cars in a small village near Khowst and became a CIA informant.
According to his Defense Dept. file, Nabi was involved in attacks against U.S. and coalition forces and facilitated smuggling routes for the Taliban and al Qaeda.
- Khairullah Khairkhwa, a direct associate of Osama bin Laden according to his Defense Dept. detainee file obtained by Wikileaks, and a senior Taliban military commander who also served as the Taliban’s minister of Interior and the governor of Herat.
He represented the Taliban at meetings with Iranian officials seeking to support actions against U.S. and coalition forces after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the document. He attended a meeting at the direction of bin Laden, reportedly accompanied by members of Hamas, the document says, and is believe to have been one of the major opium lords of western Afghanistan.
In 2002, he sought to negotiate an integration into the new government through Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai who has been accused of corruption and drug smuggling, but was arrested by Pakistani border patrol and released by Pakistan into U.S. custody… see more