WASHINGTON — U.S. intelligence officials acknowledged Tuesday that the United States may release several Afghan Taliban prisoners from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as an incentive to bring the Taliban to peace talks.
Meanwhile, Afghan officials told The Associated Press that a plan to give Afghanistan a form of legal custody over the men if they are released satisfied their earlier objection to sending the prisoners to a third country.
Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper told Congress Tuesday that no decision had been made on whether to trade the five Taliban prisoners, now held at Guantanamo Bay as part of nascent peace talks with the Taliban. He and CIA Director David Petraeus did not dispute that the Obama administration is considering transferring the five to a third country.
U.S. officials and others had previously spoken only vaguely, and usually anonymously, about the proposal to send the prisoners to Qatar, a Persian Gulf country that has asserted a central role in framing talks that might end the 10-year war in Afghanistan. The lead U.S. negotiator trying to coax the Taliban into talks had also publicly acknowledged the possibility of a release, but said there was no final decision.
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.
“I don’t think anybody harbors any illusions about it, but I think the position is to at least explore the potential for negotiating with them as a part of this overall resolution of the situation in Afghanistan,” Clapper said during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.