The United States is debating whether to transfer Mohammed Fazl, a senior Taliban official suspected of various human-rights violations, into Afghan custody in an effort to improve relations with the country, according to Reuters.
Held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002, Fazl is believed to be responsible for the killing of thousands of Afghani Shiite Muslims between 1998 and 2001. In addition, a report released by WikiLeaks said Fazl was on the scene when CIA operative Johnny Micheal Spann was killed, making him the first American who died in the Afghanistan war, though it is not known if Fazl played a part in the killing.
A senior administration official told Reuters that the Afghanistan government and Taliban representatives asked for the release of Fazl and four other Taliban members from Guantanamo Bay as far back as 2005. However, the official said the current effort, which has been in the works for 10 months, has reached a make or break point. The Obama administration is working on confidence-building measures between itself and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's administration, which would include not just the transfer of prisoners, but also the building of a Taliban liaison office in Afghanistan.
However, not everyone in the government is fond of this plan.
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., told Reuters that even once the detainees were transferred, they would likely continue to pose a threat to the United States. One U.S. intelligence official told Reuters on the condition of anonymity 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 senior administration official confirmed that letters were received, but wouldn't characterize the tone of them, saying, What is clear is the president's order to us to continue to discuss these important matters with Congress. He stressed that the detainees would not be set free, but would remain in custody, though what form of custody isn't clear.
Michael Semple, a former U.N. official, told Reuters he was not worried about Fazl returning to the Taliban.
These people are not going to make a real contribution to the Taliban war effort even if they are able to go over to Quetta and rejoin the fight. It's not risky in battlefield terms; it's only risky in U.S. political terms.