- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 30, 2015

The one-year travel ban imposed on five freed Guantanamo detainees, who last year were exchanged for captured U.S. Army Sgt. Robert ‘Bowe’ Bergdahl, expires May 31, giving the ex-Taliban fighters the right to leave Qatar and return to Afghanistan or elsewhere.

The five Taliban fighters—Mohammed Fazl, Khairullah Khairkhwa, Norullah Noori, Mohammed Nabi Omari and Abdul Haq Wasiq—also known as the ‘Taliban 5’ were released at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan in exchange for Sgt. Bergdahl who had previously been captured there in 2010.

U.S. intelligence sources declined to comment since the travel ban is only now expiring and they do not know whether any of the five Taliban fighters will return to Afghanistan or even leave Qatar. Some intelligence experts believe the exchange and release of the five terrorists placed U.S. interests at risk.

Gen. Michael Hayden, a retired four-star USAF General who also served as Director of the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency believes that the exchange could endanger Americans in the future.

“I tried to be generous when it was first announced because ‘no man left behind,’ but in the cool light of day I think it was a bad move. I’m troubled we did this for someone whom there was good evidence at the time, was a deserter, and now beyond that you have a precedent that the U.S. does indeed negotiate over hostages,” he told the Washington Times.

Paul Miller, a former advisor on national security matters for both Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush said merely communicating with the Taliban is not wrong, but negotiating for American lives diminishes American presence.

“Talking with the Taliban is necessary to ending this war, but not in a way that compromises U.S. interests in South Asia or the Afghan government’s viability,” he told the Times.

Rep. Howard P. McKeon (R., Calif.) chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. James Inofe (R., Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee intensely criticized the exchange in a joint statement last year saying it “may have consequences for the rest of our forces and all Americans. Our terrorist adversaries now have a strong incentive to capture Americans.”

According to a March report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), 116 former Guantanamo detainees “have returned to terrorism.” Of that 116, 23 are back in custody, 25 are dead—some killed by American drone strikes—and 68 are at large including five of whom were released by President Obama.

More than 55 different countries have accepted freed Guantanamo detainees with the U.S. typically continuing to enforce or monitor them during their conditional release period. Some of the countries leading the list however, are the very nations where terrorism blossoms most including Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Yemen, a fact that ODNI reports is problematic.

“Based on trends identified during the past eleven years, we assess that some detainees currently at GTMO will seek to reengage in terrorist or insurgent activities after they are transferred,” the report reads. “Transfers to countries with ongoing conflicts and internal instability as well as active recruitment by insurgent and terrorist organizations pose particular problems.”

Another 69 released detainees are ‘suspected of reengaging’ in terrorism and 55 are reportedly on the loose.

Under current intelligence laws, merely engaging in anti-American propaganda or communicating with other former Guantanamo detainees does not qualify as terrorist recidivism.

To be “confirmed” of reengaging in terrorist activities, a detainee must demonstrate that a “preponderance of information” identifies them “as directly involved in terrorist or insurgent activities.”

The definition of “suspected” or reengagement is that there is “plausible but unverified or single-source reporting indicating a specific former Gitmo detainee is directly involved in terrorist or insurgent activities.”

However, terrorist recidivism cannot be exclusively blamed on President Obama.

More than 20 percent of detainees now considered ‘enemy combatants,’ were previously released by President George W. Bush. It sometimes takes several years for U.S. intelligence to track and confirm a GTMO release’s whereabouts and activities, meaning it’s still too early to tell which detainees released by the Obama administration will reengage.

“Those numbers are constantly recalibrated and one elements is that more of the Bush released individual appear to recidivists, but that one possible explanation could be that they more time to do it or more importantly that we had more time to track them,” Gen. Hayden explained.

Currently, Guantanamo Bay prison holds 122 detainees. The White House is hoping to get the number below 100 to expedite the facility’s closure, and only the U.S. Sec. of Defense can authorize which detainees are released—a fact that reportedly created tension between the president and former Sec. Chuck Hagel and ultimately led to his dismissal.

“Our position is that the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay, the facility there, weakens our national security and (it) must be closed,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz told reporters during a Feb. 12 Air Force One press conference.

Previously on Sept. 26, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee panel that, “In 2013, just over 11,500 terrorist attacks worldwide killed approximately 22,000 people. Preliminary data for the first nine months of 2014 reflect nearly 13,000 attacks, which killed 31,000 people. When the final accounting is done, 2014 will have been the most lethal year for global terrorism in the 45 years such data has been compiled.”

The Sgt. Bergdhal exchange for the Taliban 5 received stinging criticism from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which said the Defense Department violated the Defense Appropriations Act by failing to tell Congressional lawmakers about its plan. The GAO also accused the Obama administration of violating the Antideficiency Act, which bars federal agencies from spending appropriations on activities not yet approved by Congress.


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