The Washington Post reports this morning that the Obama administration “has for several years been secretly releasing high-level detainees from a military prison in Afghanistan as part of negotiations with insurgent groups”—a program “U.S. officials acknowledge poses substantial risks.” The Post writes:
[T]he releases are an inherent gamble: The freed detainees are often notorious fighters who would not be released under the traditional legal system for military prisoners in Afghanistan. They must promise to give up violence — and U.S. officials warn them that if they are caught attacking American troops, they will be detained once again.
I’m sure that threat is quite a deterrent. The paper continues:
[O]fficials would not say whether those who have been released under the program have later returned to attack U.S. and Afghan forces once again.… Unlike at Guantanamo, releasing prisoners from the Parwan detention center, the only American military prison in Afghanistan, does not require congressional approval and can be done clandestinely…. U.S. officials would not say how many detainees have been released under the program, though they said such cases are relatively rare. The program has existed for several years, but officials would not confirm exactly when it was established.
This is unacceptable. The Obama administration owes the American people some answers. Specifically:
1. The Obama administration has been openly critical of the Bush administration for its “secret detention” of captured terrorists. Now it turns out the Obama administration been conducting the “secret release” of captured terrorists. How long has it kept the existence of this program secret from the American people, and what is the justification for this secrecy?
2. Exactly who are these admittedly “notorious” detainees who have been released in Afghanistan and precisely how many has the Obama administration set free?
3. Did any of these released terrorists and insurgents have the blood of American service members on their hands?
4. Were any implicated in war crimes?
5. An administration official tells the Post that, “When the insurgency appears to be gathering steam in certain provinces, for instance, prisoners have been released to alleviate mounting tension.” Where has this been tried, how often has it succeeded, and how often has it failed?
6. How many of those released have, instead of helping us quell the insurgency, gone back to the fight instead?
7. The administration keeps recidivism statistics for detainees released from Guantanamo and makes them public on a regular basis. Why has it not done the same for detainees released from Parwan?
8. Have any of the high-value detainees released by the administration in Afghanistan been involved in the killing of American service members following their release? If so, how many?
9. Have any released detainees been recaptured and detained again, or killed on the battlefield? If so, how many and under what circumstances?
10. An administration official tells the Post that in some cases “the benefits of release could outweigh the reasons for keeping [the detainee] detained.” What evidence is there to back up this contention?
The administration owes the American people answers to these and other questions. Expect the House Armed Services and Intelligence Committees to demand those answers.