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Did The Obama Administration Violate An Executive Order By Releasing Qais Qazali?

2:05 PM, Dec 31, 2009 • By BILL ROGGIO
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Did the Obama administration, by releasing Qais and Laith Qazali and more than 100 members of the Iranian-backed Asaib al Haq, violate an executive order put in place by President Ronald Reagan to prevent negotiations with hostage takers? Senators Jeff Sessions and Jon Kyl asked that very question to the Obama administration in a letter sent to the president in July. The full text of the letter is below, or you can read the signed letter here in PDF form.

According to a congressional staffer, the Obama administration has yet to answer the letter.

The body of the letter by Senators Jeff Sessions and Jon Kyl to President Obama, dated July 1, 2009:

We are deeply concerned by recent news reports that suggest your administration may be negotiating directly or indirectly with terrorist organizations for the release of dangerous terrorist detainees. It has long been the policy of the United States that our government does not negotiate with or provide concessions to terrorists. We strongly believe this is a wise policy for the long-term security interests of the United States and believe it should not be changed.

On January 20, 1986, President Ronald Reagan issued National Security Decision Directive Number 207, which prohibits negotiations with terrorist organizations regarding the release of hostages. The Directive sets forth in unequivocal terms the United States' "firm opposition to terrorism in all its forms" and makes clear the government's "conviction that to accede to terrorist demands places more American citizens at risk. This no-concessions policy is the best way of protecting the greatest number of people and ensuring their safety." The Directive continues to say: "The [United States government] will pay no ransoms, nor permit releases of prisoners or agree to other conditions that could serve to encourage additional terrorism. We will make no changes in our policy because of terrorist threats or acts." This policy is further articulated in Department of State Publication 10217, which makes clear the United States "will not support the freeing of prisoners from incarceration in response to terrorist demands."

We would like to know if it remains the policy and practice of the United States not to negotiate with or make concessions to terrorists, especially as it relates to the release of detainees or hostages. This question is prompted by news reports from a wide range of outlets that show your administration may have violated this longstanding policy by releasing a dangerous terrorist in Iraq in response to the demands of Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, a terrorist group that is holding British hostages.

Last month, a United States official whose identity remains unknown ordered the release of terrorist detainee, Laith al Khazali, whom the New York Times labeled "a senior Shiite insurgent said to be backed by Iran who was accused of playing a leading role in a group that killed five American soldiers in Karbala[, Iraq,] in a sophisticated attack in 2007. . . ." Press reports suggest that al Khazali's release was the first phase of a detainee-for-hostages swap involving five British civilian hostages who were kidnapped by Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq in 2007. In its June 9, 2009 story on this remarkable release, the New York Times reported that the release of al Khazali "appears to involve the release of British hostages who are being held by the [terrorist] organization."

A United States military spokesman has reportedly confirmed that the release of al Khazali was tied to negotiations with the Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq terror group, allegedly for some "reconciliation effort." This "reconciliation" concept appears to be a new label for terrorist negotiations. According to the New York Times, a spokesman for the Iraqi government conceded that the release of the British hostages had been part of the negotiations for the release of al Khazali. The spokesman, Sami al-Askari, suggested that the "reconciliation" notion was adopted as the public face of any detainee-for-hostages negotiations: