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Danger Room Blog / Wired

Unexpected Road Block to Afghanistan Peace: Gitmo

Spencer Ackerman

(Photo: Joint Task Force Guantanamo)

Negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban after 10 years of war in Afghanistan is hard enough. But the stalemated politics of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility risk effectively killing the negotiations before they even have the chance to end the war.

The Taliban leadership has evidently decided it wants to talk peace terms. Among the things it wants as a gesture of good faith from its U.S. adversaries: the release of five detainees from Guantanamo.

Provisions in the defense bill recently signed into law by President Obama make it difficult to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo Bay, the terrorism detention complex that turns 10 years old this week. But they’re a symptom of a greater obstacle to a peace deal: Congress’ broad, bipartisan allergy to releasing any detainees from Gitmo at all.

The calendar actually makes it worse than that. 2012 is an election year. Opening Guantanamo Bay’s doors as a gesture to the Taliban is a narrative practically begging for a political attack ad.

An administration official, who requested anonymity to discuss the super-sensitive proposition, tells Danger Room that Obama hasn’t actually made a decision — except to rule out a straight detainee release. “We would never consider an outright release,” the official says. “The only thing we’d consider is a transfer into third-party custody.” And that might actually provide the administration with a way to get the talks going, get the detainees out of Gitmo without freeing them, and keep Congress on board.

Outside analysts, however, aren’t convinced. “Politically,” says Karen Greenberg, who directs Fordham Law School’s Center for National Security, “it’s a nonstarter.”

The White House is furious at a story last week in the Guardian that incorrectly reported that the Obama team already reached a deal with the Taliban. “The United States has not decided to release any Taliban officials from Guantanamo Bay in return for the Taliban’s agreement to open a political office for peace negotiations,” read a White House statement.

Too late. The story already bounced around the conservative blogosphere. “That move shows [Obama's] (short-sighted) willingness to deal with an enemy in order to pursue withdrawal from Afghanistan,” judged Blackfive. “While You Were Watching Iowa, Obama Was Springing Taliban Terrorists from Gitmo,” was National Review‘s headline.

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