Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Talking with the Taliban

For most Americans and for many here in Washington, the idea that the United States could broker successful talks with the Taliban that lead to the end of the Afghan war is mind-bending. And yet, that is what senior U.S. officials have allowed themselves to entertain as 10 months of secret dialogue reach the point of breakthrough or collapse. It’s a small glimmer of hope where there once was none.

In our exclusive “Secret U.S., Taliban talks reach turning point,” we reveal that the United States is considering the transfer of Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo to the Afghan government. The Taliban will have to correspond with its own confidence-building measures like denouncing international terrorism and entering formal talks with President Karzai’s government.

Judging from initial reactions, a reconciliation process will be no easy sell here at home (not to mention in Afghanistan, where a senior Taliban commander said talks had not even started).

Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss issued a statement today saying: “It sounds as if the administration has decided to negotiate with terrorists, something the United States does not do.” Prisoner transfers, he said, should only be done once hostilities have ceased and that Americans should know who the detainees are and what acts they have committed.

There will undoubtedly be much American soul-searching about dealing with an insurgent group that has not only killed U.S. soldiers but also advocates a strict Islamic form of government.

Lawyers who worked on detainee issues now in Justice Dept. under scrutiny

(Updates to add comment.)

There has been a lot of attention lately on a small group of lawyers who were hired by the Obama administration’s Justice Department and previously worked on legal arguments for detainees seeking release from the controversial prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

A few Republican lawmakers initially sought the identity of the individuals and their responsibilities, questioning whether they were working on detainee matters at the Justice Department.

Federal ethics rules limit government officials from being involved in specific cases they had previously worked on in the private sector.

Obama slams opposition to civilian trials for terrorism suspects

President Barack Obama didn’t mince words when he criticized Republican opposition to prosecuting foreign terrorism suspects in U.S. criminal courts rather than in military tribunals, calling it “rank politics.”

His administration was caught off guard last week when opposition mounted to trying the accused plotters of the Sept. 11 attacks in a lower Manhattan courthouse amid concerns about security and costs as well as potentially affording the suspects certain legal rights.

“One of the things that we’ve had to try to communicate to the country at large is that, historically, we’ve tried a lot of terrorists in our courts; we have them in our federal prisons; they’ve never escaped,” Obama said in an interview with YouTube.GUANTANAMO/

Obama misses a deadline on Guantanamo

Just because a president orders something done, that don’t make it happen.

A year after President Barack Obama ordered the closure of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the facility is still open and holding 196 terrorism suspects the United States has captured.

GUANTANAMO/The president had barely finished celebrating his inauguration when he signed an order Jan. 22, 2009, directing the Guantanamo prison be closed “as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order.”

Any inmates still at the prison at the time of closure would be “returned to their home country, released, transferred to a third country, or transferred to another United States detention facility in a manner consistent with law and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.”

Judge blasts case against Kuwaiti held at Guantanamo

So how did an overweight, 43-year-old Kuwaiti man with bad knees and no real military training or experience suddenly become a logistics expert helping al Qaeda leaders organize the defense of Tora Bora in 2001?

That’s the question a U.S. federal judge said the government failed to adequately answer in trying to justify the indefinite detention of Fouad Al Rabiah at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  The Kuwait Airways engineer’s confessions to those charges, extracted with the use of extreme interrogation methods, “defy belief,” wrote Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in a decision issued today.

“If there exists a basis for Al Rabiah’s indefinite detention, it most certainly has not been presented to this court,” Kollar-Kotelly wrote in a 65-page decision, noting that his petition to the court for release under habeas corpus is the oldest pending.  So far, 30 detainees have won their freedom from the court, while seven have been denied.

Democrat opposes sending Guantanamo detainees to Leavenworth

A senior Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday warned against sending detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Fort Leavenworth prison in Kansas, saying it could endanger U.S. relations with Muslim countries.

It was also another thorn in President Barack Obama’s effort to quickly close the controversial U.S. prison in Cuba.

RepresentativeCUBA Ike Skelton, chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, acknowledged the difficulties the Obama administration was having finding a place to move the detainees, but in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates he raised two problems with sending them to Kansas.

Uighurs held at Guantanamo plead to Obama for release

A group of the 13 Chinese detainees held at the controversial U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba appealed directly to President Barack Obama for their immediate release, arguing that they have been cleared by the United States of any wrongdoing and they questioned why it was taking so long to go free.

Cuba Guantanamo

The members of the Uighur ethnic group originally sent the appeal to Obama on March 8 but it was not cleared by the U.S. government for release until July 14, according to their attorneys. Two of the signatories have since been released to Bermuda, the lawyers said.

“After 6 years of investigations, the US military confirmed that we are innocent,” the Uighurs said in their letter. “We are innocent civilians, however, we are currently still being held in jail.”

The First Draft: From Gitmo to paradise

AUSTRALIABarack Obama and Joe Biden head to the Midwest today.

The Chinese Gitmo detainees are heading to paradise.

No, they’re not winging to heaven to enjoy the company of 72 virgins. The Uighurs, as they’re known, are being resettled in various beachy, tropical locales as the Obama administration seeks to empty the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison.

The United States has struggled for months to find a home for the Chinese Muslims, who were scooped up in 2001 during the invasion of Afghanistan. The Uighurs had no beef with the U.S., their lawyers say, but were instead part of an independence movement in China’s far west.

China wanted them to face the music back home, but it sounds like they’ll be facing the music of Jimmy Buffett instead. The Pacific Island nation of Palau agreed to take on all 17 detainees yesterday; today the Justice Department said four have already been resettled in Bermuda.

The First Draft: Hello, summer!

USA/It’s almost Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial start of summer. No bottlenecks yet at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the gateway to Maryland’s Eastern Shore beach towns.

Traffic out that way is likely to get worse around 10:00 a.m., when President Obama delivers the commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. He’ll also sign bills to limit abusive credit-card practices and reform the Pentagon’s weapons-buying process.

Vice President Joe Biden is in Lebanon, where he’s already managed to tick off Hezbollah. No, he hasn’t said anything unwise yet, they’re just upset that he’s there.

The First Draft: Not in my backyard

USA/Former House speaker Tip O’Neill famously said that all politics is local, and President Barack Obama has encountered a phrase all too familiar to city councils and zoning boards: Not in My Backyard.

Obama’s plans to shutter the Guantanamo Bay military prison have foundered on fears, drummed up by Republicans, that terrorism suspects could roam the streets and parks of America if they are set free from U.S. prisons.

Now even Obama’s Democratic allies in Congress have said they won’t give him money to bring the Gitmo suspects into the U.S. legal system.