The Washington Post reported today that the U.S. has for years operated a secret program of releasing “high-level detainees from a military prison in Afghanistan as part of negotiations with insurgent groups.”
“We look at detainees who have influence over other insurgents — individuals whose release could have a calming effect in an entire area,” one U.S. official said. “In those cases, the benefits of release could outweigh the reasons for keeping him detained.”
When the insurgency appears to be gathering steam in certain provinces, for instance, prisoners have been released to alleviate mounting tension.
The Parwan detention center, which the Post describes as “the only American military prison in Afghanistan,” is special. The Obama administration has codified a system of indefinite detention without charge or trial at Bagram airbase and Guantanamo Bay, but apparently release from Parwan “does not require congressional approval and can be done clandestinely.”
This reasoning seems to illustrate two things: (1) the administration, at least in part, refuses to release or offer due process to many detainees for purely political reasons, and (2) the administration will do anything so long as it can be done unilaterally and secretly.
The release of Parwan detainees appears to be a strictly political decision as well. When the insurgency is “gathering steam,” Obama releases some prisoners to calm things down. It seems more a strategy to make the occupation appear stable than anything else (a goal that has failed miserably, like the war). The administration calls this their “strategic release” program. Strategic in the sense that temporarily alleviating some embarrassing insurgent violence may increase the likelihood of Mr. Obama’s reelection. But what strategic benefit this could have militarily is ephemeral at best, which indicates that the administration understands this is a lost war.
Why go through all this “strategic alleviation”? The insurgents fight for an end to war and military occupation, not international terrorism or a Caliphate over Washington. Why not just leave? Ah, well that is political too.