When President Barack Obama struck a deal with the Taliban in 2014 to free several high-ranking terrorists being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, his defenders argued their release would do little to harm U.S. national security. Now, four of those terrorists are serving in senior roles in Afghanistan's newly formed Taliban government.
The Obama-era deal's prominent defenders include officials now serving in senior posts in the Biden administration, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House press secretary Jen Psaki. They claimed there was no indication these terrorists, known as the Taliban Five, would return to the battlefield, let alone rise to senior leadership positions in the Taliban government following the United States' much-criticized evacuation from Afghanistan. The prisoners were swapped for Army soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who was later charged with desertion.
Blinken, who was then serving as deputy national security adviser, told NBC that "any threat they would pose to the United States [and] to Americans has been sufficiently mitigated." Blinken also claimed the terrorists would be "very carefully monitored" by Qatar, which helped facilitate the trade and provided safe haven to the five detainees after their release. "There will be restrictions on their travel, on their activities," Blinken said.
Jen Psaki, who served as the State Department spokeswoman at the time of the deal, hailed it as a signature achievement by the Obama administration. "Was it worth it? Absolutely," Psaki said in 2015.
Biden himself, who was vice president at the time, also celebrated Berghdahl's release on Twitter.
The ascension of these former prisoners is a sign the Taliban has no interest in moderating its behavior since the United States fled Afghanistan and allowed it to reclaim control of the war-torn country. With Americans and vulnerable Afghans still stranded in the country, these prisoners-turned-leaders could play a central part in the Taliban's efforts to arrest, detain, and kill those they accuse of aiding America during its 20-year presence in Afghanistan.
After Kabul fell to the Taliban last month, the former prisoners flew to Afghanistan to join the new government.
Former detainee Khairullah Khairkhwa is now the acting minister for information and culture, according to national security expert and Foundation for Defense of Democracies senior fellow Thomas Joscelyn. Norullah Noori now serves as acting minister of borders and tribal affairs, while Abdul Haq Wasiq is the acting director of intelligence and Mohammad Fazl is the deputy defense minister.
Haq Wasiq was a senior intelligence official for the Taliban prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and worked with al Qaeda as it plotted the strike that killed nearly 3,000 Americans.
Fazl was the Taliban's deputy defense minister in 2001 and now resumes that role. He also worked with al Qaeda and terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden's chief lieutenant.
Before he was arrested, Khairkhwa inked an agreement with Iran to fight U.S. forces in Afghanistan post-9/11.