Feb. 2 (Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration would cross a “dangerous line” and send a “horrible message” with a plan to encourage peace talks with the Afghan Taliban by transferring five prisoners from U.S. military detention, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said.
The U.S. hasn’t decided whether to transfer the five Taliban prisoners from detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Qatari imprisonment as part of an initiative to start peace talks, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the panel today.
“It crosses a pretty dangerous line and a policy change in the United States that I find very disturbing,” Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, said at his committee’s annual open hearing assessing national security threats.
“It sends a horrible message to the world’s bad actors that soldiers, prisoners, citizens are to be traded like commodities,” he said. “That is a horrible precedent and one that I hope this administration strongly reconsiders.”
The criticism, which echoed similar comments at a Senate hearing Jan. 31, may complicate the administration’s consideration of whether to transfer the prisoners as a confidence-building gesture to encourage peace talks with Taliban representatives in Qatar.
“There has not been a final decision made on this,” Clapper said. “It seemed, from an administration point of view, worth exploring.”
Under questioning from Rogers, CIA Director David Petraeus acknowledged the Taliban continues to conduct assassinations to advance political goals.
“Negotiating with people who are associated with this level of violence is very disturbing,” Rogers said.
Clapper said, “Whether or not we negotiate, and with whom we negotiate, is not an intelligence community call. It’s a policy issue.”
Rogers also expressed concern that Iran may not take seriously warnings by the U.S. that it will consider “all options,” including military force, to stop the Iranian government from developing nuclear weapons.
“Their calculus is, ‘Hey, we’re making progress here,’” Rogers said of the Iranian government, referring to its nuclear program.
Clapper disputed that assessment, saying he has seen signs of Iranian moderation. After threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, “they kind of tempered their rhetoric,” Clapper said. The USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier transited through the strait recently without incident, he said.
“I do think they have respect for what our potential capabilities are,” Clapper said. Economic sanctions “are having an impact on the economy as never before on Iran,” he said.
Iran has denied seeking nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear program is for civilian energy and medical use.
--Editors: Terry Atlas, Larry Liebert
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