What made this exercise so frustrating was that the CIA had studied the five Taliban detainees who were slated for release and concluded that this would have no net effect on the military situation, even if they broke their pledges and left Qatar. Evidence suggested that although the five had fought with the Taliban, they had no role in supporting al-Qaeda’s plots and had quickly surrendered after the U.S. offensive started.

The last chapter of this story is the most perplexing. At the NATO summit in Chicago last May, Karzai asked Obama to release eight other Afghans. The CIA examined these dossiers, too, and found four of them to be low risk and four to be medium risk. But because of the 2010 congressional requirements governing any release from Gitmo, the United States made elaborate demands for how the Afghans would be monitored back home. Karzai’s government never bothered to answer.

The Obama administration still says it wants a political settlement in Afghanistan, but progress has stalled. As for the Afghan prisoners, they remain among the 166 detainees at Guantanamo, of whom 52 are now on a hunger strike protesting their treatment and 15 are being force-fed.