Former Taliban Ministers Leave Guantanamo, Trailed By Questions

A debate has arisen recently over the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl: Did the U.S. negotiate with terrorists to win his release, or was this the kind of commonplace prisoner swap that comes in the final months of a war? The five men released in exchange for Bergdahl's safe return weren't common fighters; they were members of the Taliban government. And the arrangements of their release could offer a template for how to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

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And I'm Audie Cornish. This week's prisoner swap that exchanged five Taliban officials for one American soldier has raised a host of questions. One of them is this - will those men return to the battlefield? NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports that the five men released weren't common fighters and the security arrangements under which they were placed could provide a template for how to close the Guantanamo Bay prison.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: The five men released from Guantanamo, in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, use to run the Taliban government. The group included a deputy minister of defense, the head of Taliban security, a former deputy minister of intelligence, a commander in the military and a governor.

PETER NEUMANN: They were symbolically important to the Taliban.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Peter Neumann is a professor of security studies at King's College London.

NEUMANN: They were senior people in their movement and clearly the Taliban wanted to have back.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The Taliban negotiated for years with the Obama administration for the return of their former leaders. But Neumann said he doesn't think the old guard will suddenly find a place in the Taliban today.

NEUMANN: I think it's very unlikely that they will return into battle. They were already quite old at the point when they were being picked up, and now that the situation has gone 13 years, it is unlikely that they will be used in an operational capacity.

TEMPLE-RASTON: President Obama, traveling in Europe, said the U.S. took precautions, but there are no guarantees.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We will be keeping eyes on them. Is there the possibility of some of them trying to return to activities that are detrimental to us? Absolutely. That's been true of all the prisoners that were released from Guantanamo.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The Obama administration has kept the precise security arrangements surrounding the five men secret. The administration has said that the government of Qatar will keep the five men under some form of house arrest for one year. What happens after that - whether they'll be return to Afghanistan, for example - is unclear.

JOHN BELLINGER: In the Bush administration, we returned more than 500 detainees from Guantanamo to a variety of different countries, all subject to different security guarantees.

TEMPLE-RASTON: John Bellinger was a lawyer at the State Department and the national Security Council during the Bush administration. And he handled some of the early Guantanamo transfers.

BELLINGER: Not all of those countries have honored their commitments. And some countries were weaker than others in the commitments that they were willing to provide.

TEMPLE-RASTON: There's been some recidivism, but a large portion of the men released to their countries didn't return to the battlefield. Peter Neumann of Kings College London says this transfer's a bit different because it's coming at a time when the U.S. is winding down hostilities. And under international law, the men probably would have been released sooner rather than later anyway. The release of the five Taliban to Qatar, says John Bellinger, might also offer a blueprint for handling other detainees.

BELLINGER: A possible resolution to the Guantanamo problem is to ask countries in the Middle East to serve as a halfway house for people to get out of Guantanamo before their reintegrated back into their own countries.

TEMPLE-RASTON: There are 149 detainees still left at Guantanamo. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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