New Jersey Dem Lobbied To Close Guantanamo While Top Taliban Leaders Were Inmates

Rep. Tom Malinowski said some inmates should be 'released to their home countries'

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September 21, 2021

While working as a Washington, D.C., lobbyist, a New Jersey House Democrat lobbied for the closure of Guantanamo Bay, where senior Taliban government leadership were then imprisoned.

Rep. Tom Malinowski led the charge to shut down Guantanamo Bay prison—which holds some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists and criminals—as early as 2007, arguing through lobbying channels and academic journals. As a Human Rights Watch lobbyist Malinowski advocated a Senate measure introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) that would have closed the facility and released some inmates to their countries of origin.

In 2014, Malinowski joined the Obama administration as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor. During his tenure there, the Obama administration released five Taliban detainees in exchange for U.S. Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl. Four of the detainees released in the swap have now returned to power in Afghanistan's newly installed jihadist government. Norullah Noori, Abdul Haq Wasiq, Khairullah Khairkhwa, and Mohammad Fazl all returned to Afghanistan after stints in Guantanamo and will occupy positions in the Taliban government overseeing issues from defense and intelligence to culture and tourism.

Wasiq is the new director of intelligence for Afghanistan. He was in Guantanamo Bay from 2002 to 2014. Noori, the Taliban's border chief, deputy defense minister Fazl, and information and culture minister Khairkhwa also were imprisoned in Guantanamo during that time. During those years, Malinowski actively worked to close the prison camp.

"Guantanamo should be closed," Malinowski wrote in 2008. "Most everyone agrees that this could be done quickly by bringing the prisoners to facilities inside the United States, at which point some would be prosecuted and others released to their home countries."

Malinowski’s liberal record on foreign policy has been used against him during his campaigns. When he first ran for Congress in 2018, Republican outside groups including the Congressional Leadership Fund accused him of "seek[ing] legal protections for terrorists" and "criticiz[ing] America for waging war on al Qaeda."

Malinowski has also faced scrutiny over his questionable stock trades. The congressman is facing an investigation from the House Ethics Committee into whether he violated a federal law that requires he disclose his stock trades.

The New Jersey Democrat is in a vulnerable position going into the 2022 midterms. His already competitive district could be substantially redrawn this year and see its share of Republican voters increase. Malinowski defeated Republican challenger Thomas Kean by just over 1 percentage point in 2020. 

Malinowski did not return a request for comment.