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Five Taliban members detained at the American prison Guantanamo Bay are being remanded into the custody of Qatar following the negotiated release of a US soldier held captive in Afghanistan.

The idea of sending the five prisoners to live here has been discussed for more than two years.

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl

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In 2012, Reuters reported that the Taliban members were among the most dangerous of the renaming prisoners in Cuba, but stated that their transfer was considered a “necessary evil” to get Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl home.

The 28-year-old soldier had been held prisoner for nearly five years, and was the only American POW there. Following his release today, the New York Times reports him as being in good condition and able to walk.

The newspaper added that Qatar officials would accompany the Taliban members back to Doha, “where they will be subject to security restrictions, including a one-year travel ban.”

In a statement, US Secretary of State John Kerry praised Qatar, home to the largest US air base in the Middle East, for brokering the prisoner exchange:

“I extend my personal gratitude to the Government of Qatar – and especially to the Amir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani – who played such an instrumental role in returning Sergeant Bergdahl home.

We work every day with Qatar on a range of critical foreign policy priorities. This effort – one that was personally so close to our hearts here – exemplifies how vital our partnership with Qatar is and will remain.”

Taliban-Qatar relations

Other Taliban members have already been living in Qatar for years. Last summer, the group actually opened a political office in Dafna, which was reportedly supposed to help negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan government and the US.

Taliban office

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But the headquarters closed less than a week later after drawing the fire of President Hamad Karzai in Kabul. He took offense to the raising of a flag and installation of a placard that named the building the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” – the former name of the country when it was under Taliban rule.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, a US official said the country hopes the prisoner transfer will help with future negotiations:

“This transfer is part of a larger reconciliation framework,” said the senior defense official. “We have always maintained that reconciliation was the ultimate goal here.”

The five Taliban officials will not be the first Guantanamo prisoners to move to Doha.

Sami Al Hajj, an Al Jazeera cameraman who was detained shortly after the attacks on the US on Sept. 11, 2001, was cleared and released in 2008. He later received a hero’s welcome in Doha and is now head of Al Jazeera’s Public Liberties and Human Rights Desk.

Thoughts?

An organization documenting what took place at Guantanamo Bay has recently interviewed Al Jazeera’s Sami Al Hajj, who reflects on his time as the only journalist in the US facility in Cuba.

There, he spent more than six years as a detainee before being released to Sudan and later welcomed to Qatar in 2008.

In this video, he fields questions from Witness to Guantanamo, which is filming in-depth interviews with former detainees and other voices of Guantanamo, and archiving the videos for historical purposes.

During his time in prison, Al Hajj says he was tortured by US soldiers but also grew close to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith. “This also tell me not all the people in USA are bad. Some of them are very good and I should keep close to them,” he said, wiping away a tear.

Here’s a second video of Al Hajj, now head of Al Jazeera’s Public Liberties and Human Rights Desk, explaining his 438-day hunger strike and the details of his release.

Qatar may see more Gitmo prisoners in the next few years, if US-Taliban talks continue successfully. As part of an agreement between the two groups, five Taliban prisoners would be exchanged for a detained U.S. solider, and sent to Qatar.

Thoughts?

Credit: Photo courtesy of Witness to Guantanamo

Five Taliban members who have been detained at Guantanamo Bay may be released to Qatar’s custody in exchange for a US soldier held captive in Afghanistan, sources have told Reuters.

The prisoners are thought to be among the most dangerous of the remaining Guantanamo detainees, but their transfer is considered a “necessary evil” to bring 26-year-old Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl home, the report states.

Earlier this year, the Taliban prisoners had expressed interest in being sent to Qatar, but the US had not agreed.

There was also talks of opening a political office in Doha, with which the US would liase, but the Taliban suspended that effort, calling it “wasting time.”

Reuters reports:

Of the five senior Taliban figures, many officials and lawmakers are particularly nervous about transferring Mullah Mohammed Fazl, a “high-risk detainee” who was in the first group sent to Guantanamo in early 2002, under what could be only loose security and travel restrictions.

A former Taliban deputy minister of defense, Fazl is alleged to be responsible for the massacre of thousands of minority Shi’ites. The group also includes Noorullah Noori, a former top military commander; former deputy intelligence minister Abdul Haq Wasiq; and Khairullah Khairkhwa, a former interior minister. The identity of the fifth detainee remains unclear.

When this proposal was first broached in January, a former Taliban official said that the Qatari government would take measures “to ensure these Taliban figures will not use Qatar soil to organise and conduct attacks against anyone,” adding that the men’s families may have been transferred here.

Thoughts?

Credit: Photo by Marion Doss