There is a concerted push to sanitize the records of four of the five Taliban leaders transferred from Guantanamo to Qatar. But before delving into some of the specifics, let us recount the basic facts.
All five of the released Taliban leaders were deemed “high” risks to the U.S., its interests, and its allies by Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO). President Obama’s own Guantanamo Review Task Force evaluated the five and concluded that they should be held indefinitely under the laws of war. There was bipartisan resistance in Washington, including from leading Senate Democrats, to releasing the five, because of the dangers they pose. There was also significant opposition within the U.S. military and intelligence community to releasing them. Tellingly, these are the five jihadist leaders the Taliban wanted back the most and the Taliban celebrated their release, saying that the release of its “five senior leaders” from U.S. custody brought “tears of joy.”
Despite abundant evidence that the five are what virtually everyone thinks they are, some are trying to rewrite history. And so the Los Angeles Times published a piece this week entitled, “Most of 5 freed Taliban prisoners have less than hard-core pasts.”
The LA Times concludes, “A closer look at the former prisoners…indicates that not all were hard-core militants. Three held political positions in the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and were considered relative moderates.”
This is flat false.
A closer look at what is known about Khairullah Khairkhwa, one of the Taliban Five that the LA Times says was merely a moderate political leader, demonstrates just how erroneous the newspaper’s account is. Khairkhwa was a senior Taliban leader and one of Mullah Omar’s most trusted subordinates. He had military responsibilities and was even tied to Osama bin Laden.
The authors open by introducing Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai as a character witness. “He was a friendly man and did not try to force his views on you,” Yusufzai says of Khairkhwa. The facts say otherwise.
Readers would never know that similar sanitized versions of Khairkhwa’s story have been offered in American courts twice before. And these versions were rejected by American judges — twice before.
On May 27, 2011, District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina issued his opinion rejecting Khairkhwa’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus. And, on December 14, 2012, the D.C. Circuit Court issued its ruling affirming Judge Urbina’s opinion. The two rulings are completely at odds with the story the LA Times and other Khairkhwa apologists tell.
Far from being a moderate political figure, the courts found that Khairkhwa was intimately involved in the Taliban’s military operations.
“Even after his appointment as Governor of Herat in 1999, [Khairkhwa] remained integrally involved in the Taliban’s military forces, operating within the Taliban’s formal command structure and facilitating the movement of Taliban troops both before and after the commencement of Operation Enduring Freedom,” Judge Urbina’s opinion reads. “Moreover, on the eve of Operation Enduring Freedom, [Khairkhwa] was dispatched to Iran by Taliban leaders in Kandahar to discuss Iran’s offer to provide military assistance to the Taliban in anticipation of the imminent U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.”
The Iranians promised the Taliban three things during this and other meetings: to provide the Taliban with weapons, open the borders for “Arabs” (meaning al Qaeda operatives) traveling to Afghanistan to fight, and to help negotiate a pact with the Northern Alliance. The third initiative was fruitless, as the Northern Alliance remained opposed to the Taliban. The other two have come to fruition. In the years that followed Khairkhwa’s meeting with the Iranians, Iran supplied the Taliban with weapons. And, according to the Obama administration, al Qaeda operates a facilitation network inside Iran to this day that shuttles fighters to and from South Asia. In other words, the terms of assistance offered by Iran were very real.