Time Magazine: White House Released Taliban Leaders Despite Pentagon Resistance and Objections

According to this report, Barack Obama has been looking for ways to release those Taliban prisoners for some time.

…officials in the Pentagon and intelligence communities had successfully fought off release of the five men in the past, officials tell TIME. “This was out of the norm,” says one official familiar with the debate over the dangers of releasing the five Taliban officials. “There was never the conversation.” Obama’s move was an ultimate victory for those at the White House and the State Department who had previously argued the military should “suck it up and salute,” says the official familiar with the debate.

Obama has broad authority under Article II of the U.S. Constitution to order the prisoner exchange as commander in chief of America’s armed forces. The lengths to which he went to bring it about show how determined he was to resolve the lingering issue of America’s only prisoner of war in Afghanistan.

The Obama administration first considered whether the five men were safe to release at the very start of his term as president. In January 2009, Obama ordered a Justice Department-led review of all 240 Guantanamo Bay detainees. The five Taliban leaders were found to be high risks to return to the fight against Americans, confirming Bush administration assessments of the threat they posed, according to officials familiar with the group’s findings. “These five are clearly bad dudes,” says a second source familiar with the debate over their release, adding that the detainees are likely to return to the fight.

The report goes on at great length about how hard the White House and State Department have been pushing for their release while the Pentagon and others have strenuously objected. The State Department people seem to have been entranced with the theory that releasing the Taliban prisoners would help them reach some kind of deal with the Taliban. “The transfer of the five was discussed as a possible confidence-building measure to pave the way for a deal.”

I completely understand releasing random Afghanis who got swept up by bounty hunters or others. But releasing dangerous enemies when you are at war with their people seems insane at best. Furthermore—if it is truly desirable to reach a peaceful resolution with the Taliban—the most obvious way to do that would be to offer to return all prisoners of war once the war has ended. If they can see you are stupid enough to give them back their leaders without such a condition, then why would they be motivated to make a peace deal?

And why always make the five an all or nothing decision? Why no discussion of releasing one or two and using the rest to get the complete peace deal? The article never mentions the Administration or State Department considering such a move. Why not? That is the obvious advantage of having more than one prisoner.

Opponents of release say absent a peace deal with the Taliban, the release makes no sense. “When our military is engaged in combat operations you’re always going to err on the side of caution,” says the first official familiar with the debate. “Just conceptually, how much sense does it make to release your enemy when you’re still at war with him?

That last paragraph is the reason for the English word, “duh.”