[Ed. – How soon we forget. Whom did we try at Nuremberg if not the holders of political positions in Hitler’s Nazi government — including “relative moderates”? It’s a separate question whether holding those trials was a good policy idea or not; the point is that the political officials of a thuggish, terrorist regime — which the Nazis assuredly were — were culpable and dangerous men. There is no such thing as a mild-mannered, “moderate” Taliban official whom it is safe to release back onto the streets while the Taliban is still fighting to retake Afghanistan. As for the imputed implication that the Gitmo 5 will somehow pose a direct terrorist threat to the United States, that’s a strawman (in a specious line of argument stuffed full of them). It’s not the proposition of the critics. What the 5 can do, and probably will, is get back in the position they were in before 9/11: able and willing to host and abet the terrorists who do plot to attack the U.S. directly.]
A closer look at the former prisoners, however, indicates that not all were hard-core militants. Three held political positions in the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and were considered relative moderates. A fourth was a mid-level police official, experts say.
The fifth, however, has a darker past. Mohammed Fazl was chief of staff of the Taliban army and is accused of commanding forces that massacred hundreds of civilians in the final years of Taliban rule before the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. He was arrested in November 2001 after surrendering to U.S.-allied warlords in northern Afghanistan. …
The backgrounds of the prisoners, who are confined to the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar for one year under the terms of the exchange, indicate that they would have little utility on the battlefield after more than a decade in prison. They range in age from 43 to 47. In their absences, the Taliban movement they served has evolved into a complex and extremely violent insurgency that routinely kills civilians and has been decimated — although far from defeated — by years of U.S. counter-terrorism operations.
Their primary value, say analysts, is as a symbol of the Taliban’s ability to negotiate on equal footing with the United States. As the Obama administration prepares for the withdrawal of most U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of the year, the exchange has raised questions about whether Taliban leaders will seek a negotiated peace with the Afghan government or wait out the departure of virtually all American troops by 2016.
“It’s a boost in terms of morale, but I doubt whether this would make any kind of practical impact, at least in the short term, to the conflict inside Afghanistan,” said Alex Strick van Linschoten, who has co-written three books on the Taliban. “All these guys are pretty old now.”
Administration officials dispute allegations that the five were the “worst of the worst” of the Taliban, saying they were not a threat to the United States and that about 30 detainees who are considered a danger would still face trial.