The five prisoners released from the Guantanamo Bay detention camp last year in return for captured US soldier Bowe Bergdahl will continue to be kept in Qatar for the foreseeable future, after an agreement was reached between the Qatari and US authorities.
The agreement comes amid fears that the five militants, who are high-level Taliban officials, could return to their native Afghanistan and rejoin Taliban forces there. In January it was reported that one of the prisoners was already suspected of carrying out militant activity from his location in Qatar, by communicating with suspected Taliban associates in Afghanistan in order to encourage militant activity.
The group of former detainees, who were captured early in the war in Afghanistan, includes one direct associate of Osama bin Laden, a former Taliban interior minister, the former deputy chief of the Taliban intelligence service, a former commander who led the main Taliban fighting force against the US-led Northern Alliance in 2001, a former Taliban chief of communications, and the ex-governor of Balkh province under the Taliban regime.
The deal to release the prisoners from Guantanamo was criticized by lawmakers from both sides of the US House of Representatives, who complained that the White House did not give Congress the 30-day notification of the prisoners’ transfer, required by law.
Earlier this month, the 13 Republican members of the House Intelligence committee requested that President Barack Obama appeal to Qatar to indefinitely extend the restrictions on the group, writing, ” If, as scheduled, Qatar permits these five former detainees to possess passports and travel to Afghanistan or Pakistan when the memorandum of understanding expires on June 1, they will be at liberty to play an even more direct role in attacks against the men and women of our military.”
The Taliban leaders were freed from the facility in Cuba and flown to Qatar in May 2014 under the terms of a controversial prisoner swap deal for army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban in 2009.
Bergdahl was held by the Taliban for almost five years after walking away from the US army post in eastern Afghanistan where his unit was based. Bergdahl faces a preliminary hearing on July 8, having been charged with desertion and misconduct that endangered his unit; the charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.