Unexpected road block to Afghanistan peace: prisoners of war

Spencer Ackerman reports: 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.”

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