Doubts, Questions About Qatar Watching Over Transferred Taliban Prisoners
Posted at 4:01 p.m. on June 11, 2014
Hagel prepares to testify before a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the Bergdahl prisoner exchange Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
One member of Congress who has read the memorandum of understanding between the United States and Qatar to host the five ex-Guantanamo Taliban detainees isn’t convinced it’s up to snuff. One committee’s staff that has examined the three-page document found it “unremarkable” and had “no antennas raised in reading it.” And the administration is “confident” in Qatar’s ability and desire to watch over the Taliban members swapped for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
But in two different hearings Wednesday, lawmakers had a number of questions about the memorandum, and administration officials tried to answer them (although they were confined by the classified nature of the agreement).
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, said the memorandum was signed May 12.
“Included in this MOU were specific risk mitigation measures and commitments from the government of Qatar, like travel restrictions, monitoring, information sharing and limitations on activities, as well as other significant measures, which we will detail in the closed portion of this hearing,” Hagel said.
“We believe, the analysis of the intelligence community, all who had a role in this, that we could substantially mitigate the risks through the 12-month memorandum of understanding that Qatar provided the enforcement of the security there,” he said.
Hagel said every agency involved in the decision believed that it contained “strong enforcement mechanisms that would give us some significant reassurance that those five individuals would be kept in Qatar.”
Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., said her constituents were worried about the Taliban members posing a threat to the United States. Hagel said it was a concern he had, too, but that there would be tight enforcement under the initial 12-month period of the memorandum. He conceded,, though, that “We know that after 12 months. that’s another — that’s another deal.”
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., asked whether the Taliban members would have ankle bracelets or if there would be some other means of continuously tracking them — something Hagel said he’d have to answer in classified session.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing Wednesday for several ambassadorial nominees, one of whom, Dana Shell Smith, is up for the Qatar post.
The top Republican on the panel, Bob Corker of Tennessee, said “Our staff has been able to go down and read the MOU we have with Qatar … it’s three pages long. My understanding it’s that it’s very unremarkable and our staff had no antennas raised in reading it.”
Smith said Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad personally assured President Barack Obama about the security measures Qatar would take. That showed they have the will; she also said the administration was “confident” in Qatar’s capability. “We are cautiously optimistic that there is the ability to do this,” she said, under questioning from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
She said, if confirmed, she would have a hands-on role in verifying that Qatar lived up to the memorandum of understanding, and that she would be “leading a country team representative of our whole government working on this tirelessly.” She added: “Qatar won’t be the only ones with eyes on these individuals and it’s probably best to leave it at that.”
A member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., wasn’t convinced by the memorandum, however. He appeared on CNN, where he said the memo didn’t go far enough in its assurances.
“It’s not that the Qataris are not going to try. There’s no guarantee of success,” Schiff said. “They are going to make every effort to keep track of these guys for among other reasons it would be deeply embarrassing of the gunneries if they lose sight of these five. Even the Taliban leadership probably has incentive not to violate the deal because they have a relationship with the Qatari government.
“But notwithstanding those best efforts there’s no guarantee that they will succeed and beyond that when the year is up, then I think really all bets are off and we have to prudently expect that some of them are going to return to the fight,” Schiff said, while defending the president’s right to make a very “tough call” to swap prisoners.