WH sales pitch on restrictions for released Taliban leaders not exactly a confidence-builder

Barack Obama expressed confidence that the emirate of Qatar could keep the US safe from the five high-ranking Taliban commanders that he released from Guantanamo Bay, but just exactly how will that work? The Washington Post’s Anne Gearan got a leak from the Obama administration on the “strict” conditions imposed on the newly-freed terrorists, and … it’s still not looking like much more than a trust me. In fact, it’s more based on a hope that they’ve outgrown being mass murderers, or something:

The five senior Taliban leaders released to Qatar after years of detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are subject to strict bans on militant incitement or fundraising that might pose a danger to the United States, according to people familiar with the negotiations that freed American prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl.

The Afghans are also under a one-year travel ban insisted upon by Washington despite a Taliban request that the men be allowed to make the hajj, Muslims’ annual pilgrimage to nearby Saudi Arabia. …

People familiar with the negotiation said the five had become less worrisome as the years wore on, and were now considered “graybeards,” or elders unlikely to assume top battlefield roles. That said, U.S. officials acknowledged that some of the five could take on other leadership roles within the Taliban.

The strict travel ban will keep them from returning to any active role fighting U.S. forces for at least a year, U.S. officials said. By that time, all U.S. combat forces will be gone from Afghanistan. A small force devoted to training and counterterrorism will remain.

Ah yes, the “strict” travel ban. Exactly how does that work? As Bruce Goldberg reminds us at the New York Post this morning, Qatar has promised that before with an Gitmo graduate, only to discover that the man flew to London … twice.

But it’s not as if the five Taliban leaders have to travel far in order to start picking up where they left off either, as a recent Congressional Research Service paper explained to members on Capitol Hill. Qatar has a wide-open attitude to all sorts of terror groups who will happily beat paths to these graybeards’ doors. Hamas’ Khaled Meshaal has his global office in Qatar, and an Egyptian cleric organizing support for radical Islamists in Syria (and who supported attacks on American forces in Iraq) does as well. And the Taliban 5 might meet some old friends in Qatar, too:

“The State Department reported in 2011 that Qatari authorities ‘did not adequately enforce its laws and international standards to track funds transfers to individuals and organizations (including charities) associated with extremists and terrorist facilitators outside Qatar,’ ” according to the CRS.

Specifically mentioned is Abdelrahman bin Umayr al Nuyami, an al Qaeda financier and one of two Qataris the United States last year branded as “specially designated global terrorists.”

According to the Treasury Department, Nuyami last year “ordered the transfer of nearly $600,000 to al Qaeda via al Qaeda’s representative in Syria . . . and intended to transfer nearly $50,000 more.”

Nuyami has also “facilitated significant financial support to al Qaeda in Iraq,” the Treasury Department said.

The report also notes that a member of the Qatari royal family, former interior minister Shaykh Abdullah bin Khalid Al Thani, provided support to al Qaeda figures, including Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

Qatar’s “counterterrorism cooperation” has improved since then, but as recently as 2011 the State Department said American officials wanted better “cooperation and information sharing” from the Qataris, the CRS said.

Feel better? Naaaah. That explains why John McCain told Jake Tapper that it’s not the deal in theory that’s a problem, but the actual deal itself:

But hey, these guys are too old for this, er, stuff — right? They’re “graybeards” now, which means Afghans can rest easy. Funny, the Afghans themselves don’t seem to think so:

Taliban forces led by Mohammed Fazl swept through this village on the Shomali plain north of Kabul in 1999 in a scorched-earth offensive that prompted some 300,000 people to flee for their lives.

Fifteen years later, local residents here are responding with fear and dismay to the U.S. release of the notorious commander, along with four other Taliban leaders in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only American prisoner of war who was held by the Taliban. The group released a video on Wednesday showing the hurried handover a few days earlier of the American captive, looking gaunt and dazed. …

Among the five, however, Mr. Fazl stands out as one with the strongest ties to involvement in wartime atrocities, Afghans familiar with the Taliban and human-rights groups say.

“Fazl is the case among the five where there is clear evidence that he had command responsibility for forces that committed atrocities,” said Patricia Gossman, a researcher with the advocacy group Human Rights Watch who has studied crimes committed during the Afghan civil war. “Shomali is the place where he was on the ground.”

Ms. Gossman added that evidence also places Mr. Fazl on the scene of a massacre of civilians in the Yakawlang district of central Bamyan province in January 2001. All of the parties in Afghanistan’s civil war that began in the 1990s were involved in atrocities and rights abuses, according to researchers.

“Relatively speaking, his crimes were no greater than those of many of the people the U.S. and other NATO countries have been happy to work with since 2001, including men who were involved in massacres,” said Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a Kabul-based research group.

I’m sure his beard is too gray for him to go back to his old ways, though. Maybe we should release Charles Manson while we’re at it, too.