World wary of Taliban government, Afghans urge action on rights and economy

(Reuters) – Foreign countries greeted the makeup of the new government in Afghanistan with caution and dismay on Wednesday after the Taliban appointed hardline veteran figures to top positions, including several with a U.S. bounty on their head.

Small protests persisted in Afghanistan, with dozens of women taking to the streets of Kabul to demand representation in the new administration and for their rights to be protected.

More broadly, people urged the new leaders to revive the Afghan economy, which is facing steep inflation, food shortages exacerbated by drought and the prospect of overseas investment disappearing as the outside world eyes the Taliban warily.

The Islamist militant movement swept to power nearly four weeks ago in a stunning victory hastened by the withdrawal of U.S. military support to Afghan government forces.

It has taken time to form a government, and although the posts are acting rather than final, the appointment of a cabinet of hardline veterans has been seen by other nations as a signal that the Taliban are not looking to broaden their base and present a more tolerant face to the world.

The group has promised to respect people’s rights and not seek vendettas, but it has been criticized for its heavy-handed response to protests and its part in a chaotic evacuation of tens of thousands of people from Kabul airport.

“The announcement of a transitional government without the participation of other groups and yesterday’s violence against demonstrators and journalists in Kabul are not signals that give cause for optimism,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

The European Union voiced its disapproval at the appointments, announced late on Tuesday in Kabul, but said it was ready to continue humanitarian assistance. Longer term aid would depend on the Taliban upholding basic freedoms.

The U.S. State Department said it was concerned about the “affiliations and track records” of some of the people named by the Taliban to fill top posts.

“The world is watching closely,” a spokesperson said.

The new acting cabinet includes former detainees of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, while the interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is wanted by the United States on terrorism charges and carries a reward of $10 million.

His uncle, with a bounty of $5 million, is the minister for refugees and repatriation.

The Taliban’s sudden victory, which took even its leadership by surprise, has presented the rest of the world with a dilemma.

They want to keep aid flowing and to help those with the appropriate paperwork who want to leave, but they may have to engage with a movement that, until a few weeks ago, was an insurgency blamed for thousands of civilian deaths.


The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, women were banned from work and girls from school. The group carried out public executions and its religious police enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Taliban leaders have vowed to respect people’s rights, including those of women, in accordance with sharia, but those who have won greater freedoms over the last two decades are worried about losing them.

In Kabul, a group of women bearing signs reading “A cabinet without women is a failure” held another protest in the Pul-e Surkh area of the city. Larger demonstrations on Tuesday were broken up when Taliban gunmen fired warning shots into the air.

“The cabinet was announced and there were no women in the cabinet. And some journalists who came to cover the protest were all arrested and taken to the police station,” said a woman in a video shared on social media.

Zaki Daryabi, head of the daily newspaper Etilaatroz, said some of his reporters had been beaten while covering Tuesday’s protests, which came hours before the new government was revealed.

Taliban officials have said that protests would be allowed, but that they must be announced in advance and authorized.

For many Afghans, more pressing than the composition of the cabinet was the economic fallout of the chaos triggered by the Taliban’s conquest, including its impact on healthcare.

Shukrullah Khan, manager of a restaurant at Qargha Lake, a popular local resort near Kabul, said business had slumped to next to nothing.

“The business and bazaars compared to the previous government, has been decreased by 98%,” he said.

“The banks are closed, there’s no jobs, people no longer spend money. Where does the money come from so that people can have fun here?”

Aid flights have begun to arrive at Kabul airport, but many more will be needed over the coming months.

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) appealed to other humanitarian organizations to return to Afghanistan and for the World Bank to unlock funds to support the tottering healthcare system.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

In a first under Biden, detainee transferred out of Guantanamo Bay

By Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden’s administration said on Monday that it had transferred its first detainee from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, a Moroccan man imprisoned since 2002, lowering the population at the facility to 39.

Abdul Latif Nasir, 56, was repatriated to Morocco.

Set up to house foreign suspects following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, the prison came to symbolize the excesses of the U.S. “war on terror” because of harsh interrogation methods critics said amounted to torture.

While former President Donald Trump kept the prison open during his four years in the White House, Biden has vowed to close it, a promise White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated on Monday.

Nasir had been cleared for release in 2016 during the Obama administration before Trump took office. Most of the prisoners left at Guantanamo Bay have been held for nearly two decades without being charged or tried.

“The (Biden) administration is dedicated to following a deliberate and thorough process focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population of the Guantanamo facility while also safeguarding the security of the United States and its allies,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

Morocco’s general prosecutor said in a statement that Nasir would be investigated for suspected involvement in terrorist acts, and a police source said he had been taken into custody in Casablanca.

More than a dozen Moroccans have been held at Guantanamo Bay and those repatriated have faced investigation and trial. One, Ibrahim Benchekroun, was jailed for six years after being repatriated in 2005 and died in 2014 in Syria where he had traveled to join a militant group.

A senior U.S. administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that of the remaining detainees at the prison, 10 are already eligible for transfer.

Advocacy groups welcomed the move but said more needed to be done.

“The Biden administration urgently needs to negotiate and implement similar decisions for other cleared prisoners,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s national security project.

“Bringing an end to two decades of unjust and abusive military detention of Muslim men at Guantanamo is a human rights obligation and a national security necessity,” Shamsi said.

Opened under Republican President George W. Bush, the prison’s population peaked at about 800 inmates before it started to shrink. President Barack Obama, a Democrat like Biden, whittled down the number, but his effort to close the prison was stymied largely by Republican opposition in Congress.

The federal government is barred by law from transferring any inmates to prisons on the U.S. mainland. Even with Democrats controlling Congress now, Biden has majorities so slim that he would struggle to secure legislative changes because some Democrats might also oppose them.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month that the administration was actively looking into recreating the position of a State Department envoy for the closure of the prison at the Guantanamo Bay naval base.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali, additional reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi in Rabat and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Howard Goller)

Many key China issues still ‘under review’ at Biden’s first 100 days

By Michael Martina and Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As U.S. President Joe Biden’s first 100 days come to a close this week, a number of key policy positions and contentious issues remain “under review,” to use the White House’s terminology.

They stretch from deep-seated economic issues a generation in the making to controversial policies introduced by Republican President Donald Trump’s government, which preceded the Democratic Biden administration.

Many relate to China, the United States’ strategic competitor, a rivalry that Biden has starkly defined, most recently in a speech to Congress on Wednesday, as a struggle between democracy and autocracy for control of the global economy in the 21st century.

The Biden administration has begun to flesh out an overarching strategy to compete with China that relies on renewing relations with partners like India and allies like Japan and South Korea, and heavy domestic investment.

But critics say slow reviews of specific policies could cost U.S. companies and the economy.

After Biden’s speech, Republican Senator Mitt Romney told reporters, “I don’t believe we yet have as a nation a comprehensive strategy to deal with a China intent on dominating the world, eventually.”

“We don’t have the luxury of time to sit around and marvel at the problem,” said one Republican aide in the House of Representatives, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We need action and specific policies in place.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the Republican criticism of their policy reviews. Democrats argue privately, however, that the administration is still racing to get crucial jobs filled.

Biden has yet to name an ambassador to China and many other countries, or to fill a key post at the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security, which oversees exports of critical U.S. technology to China.

Administration officials have said they will look to add “new targeted restrictions” on some sensitive technology exports to China in cooperation with allies, but have not offered further details.


The Biden administration has said it will conduct a thorough review of U.S. tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on nearly $400 billion worth of Chinese goods, but it has not given a deadline.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a recent interview that the United States was not ready to lift the duties, in part because of the leverage it gives American negotiators.

The tariffs cost U.S manufacturers $80 billion, the Tax Foundation think tank reported last September. China has fallen short of pledges to buy U.S. goods made in a January 2020 trade deal.


Biden launched a 100-day review of risks to critical supply chains in February, citing the United States’ need for secure, diverse, dependable goods in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, electric vehicle batteries, and rare earth minerals.

The Defense, Commerce, Energy, Agriculture, Transportation, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services departments are expected to submit reports addressing supply chain resiliency due one year after the February order.


The Biden administration also has not addressed how it will use a tough sanctioning tool introduced by Trump that would prohibit U.S. investments in Chinese companies that the previous administration said were owned or controlled by the Chinese military.


The Biden administration has signaled for weeks it is finalizing a broad review of North Korea (Successive U.S. administrations have sought to persuade the Stalinist country to part with its nuclear weapons.) A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday the administration was “closer to the end of that review than we are to the beginning,” but offered no details.

The White House has shared little about the review and whether it will offer concessions to get Pyongyang to return to talks. It has simultaneously signaled a hard line on human rights, denuclearization and sanctions, while making diplomatic overtures that officials say have been rebuffed by Pyongyang, which has long demanded economic sanctions relief.


Biden promised during the 2020 presidential campaign to reverse parts of Trump’s harsh measures against Cuba, and aides have said they are looking especially at Trump’s last-minute decision to designate Havana as a state sponsor of terrorism.

But the new administration appears to be in no rush. And any significant move of this type would risk a political backlash in the crucial swing state of Florida ahead of the 2022 congressional midterm elections. Trump’s hardline approach was popular among the Miami area’s large Cuban-American population, helping him win the state in November though he lost the presidential election.

Among the other issues still being decided are how to craft a new policy on Venezuela, where Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions failed to dislodge socialist President Nicolas Maduro, and how to close the internationally condemned U.S. military prison for foreign suspects at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba.

(Reporting by Michael Martina, Matt Spetalnick, David Brunnstrom, Andrea Shalal, Trevor Hunnicutt and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Heather Timmons and Jonathan Oatis)

Pentagon announces single largest transfer of Guantanamo inmates

n this photo, reviewed by a U.S. Department of Defense official, a Guantanamo detainee's feet are shackled to the floor as he attends a "Life Skills" class inside the Camp 6 high-security detention facility at Guantanamo Bay U.S

By Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. officials said on Monday 15 inmates from the Guantanamo prison were transferred to the United Arab Emirates, the single largest transfer of Guantanamo detainees during President Barack Obama’s administration.

The transfer of the 12 Yemeni and three Afghan citizens brings the total number of detainees down to 61 at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Most have been held without charge or trial for more than a decade, drawing international condemnation.

Obama, who had hoped to close the prison during his first year in office, rolled out his plan in February aimed at shutting the facility. But he faces opposition from many Republican lawmakers as well as some fellow Democrats.

“In its race to close Gitmo, the Obama administration is doubling down on policies that put American lives at risk,” Republican Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

“Once again, hardened terrorists are being released to foreign countries where they will be a threat,” he said.

While Obama’s plan for shuttering the facility calls for bringing the several dozen remaining prisoners to maximum-security prisons in the United States, U.S. law bars such transfers to the mainland. Obama, though, has not ruled out doing so by executive action.

“I think we are at an extremely dangerous point where there is a significant possibility this is going to remain open as a permanent offshore prison to hold people, practically until they die,” said Naureen Shah, Amnesty International’s U.S. director for security and human rights.

Shah said keeping Guantanamo open gave cover to foreign governments to ignore human rights.

“It weakens the U.S. government’s hand in arguing against torture and indefinite detention,” she said.

One of the detainees who was transferred is an Afghan national, identified as Obaidullah, who has spent more than 13 years at Guantanamo. He had been accused of storing mines to be used against American forces in Afghanistan.

“The continued operation of the detention facility weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and partners, and emboldening violent extremists,” Lee Wolosky, the State Department’s special envoy for closing the Guantanamo detention center, said.

“The support of our friends and allies – like the UAE –  is critical to our achieving this shared goal,” Wolosky said.

A State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity said the UAE had resettled five detainees transferred in November 2015.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by James Dalgleish, Bernard Orr)

Exclusive: Justice Department opposes new Obama proposal on Guantanamo

Guantanamo Bay

By Charles Levinson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Barack Obama is again facing dissent from within his administration – this time from Attorney General Loretta Lynch – over his plans to shutter the Guantanamo Bay military prison, according to senior administration officials.

Lynch, a former federal prosecutor whom Obama appointed to head the Justice Department two years ago, is opposing a White House-backed proposal that would allow Guantanamo Bay prisoners to plead guilty to terrorism charges in federal court by videoconference, the officials said.

Over the past three months, Lynch has twice intervened to block administration proposals on the issue, objecting that they would violate longstanding rules of criminal-justice procedure.

In the first case, her last-minute opposition derailed a White House-initiated legislative proposal to allow video guilty pleas after nearly two months of interagency negotiations and law drafting. In the second case, Lynch blocked the administration from publicly supporting a Senate proposal to legalize video guilty pleas.

“It’s been a fierce interagency tussle,” said a senior Obama administration official, who supports the proposal and asked not to be identified.

White House officials confirmed that President Obama supports the proposal. But the president declined to overrule objections from Lynch, the administration’s top law-enforcement official.

“There were some frustrations,” said a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The top lawyer in the land has weighed in, and that was the DOJ’s purview to do that.”

If enacted into law, the Obama-backed plan would allow detained terrorism suspects who plead guilty to serve their sentences in a third-country prison, without setting foot on U.S. soil. The plan would thus sidestep a Congressional ban on transferring detainees to the United States, which has left dozens of prisoners in long-term judicial limbo in Guantanamo, the American military enclave in Cuba.

Obama has vowed to close the prison on his watch. But while he has overseen the release of some 160 men from the prison, the facility still holds 80 detainees.

The video plea plan has broad backing within the administration, including from senior State Department and Pentagon officials. A Defense Department spokesman declined to comment.

The most enthusiastic backers of the plan have been defense lawyers representing up to a dozen Guantanamo Bay detainees who are eager to extricate their clients from seemingly indefinite detention.

Republicans in Congress have opposed the president’s plans to empty the prison, on the grounds that many of the detainees are highly dangerous. But there is some bipartisan support for the proposal as well, a rarity in the Guantanamo debate.

Kevin Bishop, a spokesman for Senator Lindsey Graham, a leading Republican voice on defense and national security issues, said Graham was “intrigued” by the proposal.

While support from a Republican senator would by no means guarantee the votes needed to pass, it does give the proposal a better chance than schemes that would transfer detainees from the Cuban enclave to the United States.

Obama views the video feed proposal as a meaningful step toward closing the facility and making good on one of his earliest pledges as president, administration officials said.

Of the 80 prisoners remaining in Guantanamo, roughly 30 have been approved for transfer to third countries by an interagency review board. Most of those 30 men are expected to be released from Guantanamo in coming weeks, according to administration officials.

The officials said they think that as many as 10 more prisoners could be added to the approved-for-transfer list by the review board. Finally, another 10 detainees are standing trial in military commissions.

That leaves roughly 30 detainees whom the government deems too dangerous to release but unlikely to be successfully prosecuted in court. As a result, those men would likely have to be transferred to detention in the United States if the prison were closed.

Administration officials say that allowing video feeds could reduce that number to somewhere between 10 and 20. The administration believes that with such a small number of prisoners requiring transfer to the United States, it would be easier to win support for closing the facility, which is run by a staff of 2,000 military personnel.

“This is the group that gives the president the most heartburn,” said the senior administration official.

Lynch and her deputies at the Justice Department argued that the laws of criminal procedure do not allow defendants to plead guilty remotely by videoconference.

Even if Congress were to pass the law, Lynch and her aides have told the White House that federal judges may rule that such pleas are in effect involuntary, because Guantanamo detainees would not have the option of standing trial in a U.S. courtroom.

A defendant in federal court usually has the option to plead guilty or face a trial by jury. In the case of Guantanamo detainees, the only option they would likely face is to plead guilty or remain in indefinite detention.

“How would a judge assure himself that the plea is truly voluntary when if the plea is not entered, the alternative is you’re still in Gitmo?” said a person familiar with Lynch’s concerns about the proposal. “That’s the wrinkle.”

Lawyers for Guantanamo detainee Majid Khan, a 36-year-old Pakistani citizen, first proposed allowing Khan to plead guilty by videoconference in a legal memo submitted to the Department of Justice in November. In 2012, Khan confessed in military court to delivering $50,000 to Qaeda operatives who used it to carry out a truck bombing in Indonesia, and to plotting with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, on various planned strikes.

Senate investigators found internal CIA documents confirming that Khan’s CIA interrogators subjected him to forced rectal feedings. Khan’s lawyers say the experience amounted to rape. He was also water-boarded.

That treatment makes it difficult for the Department of Justice to successfully prosecute Khan in federal court, according to administration officials.

When White House officials learned that Khan and other detainees were ready to plead guilty to terrorism charges in federal court, they thought they had found a solution.

Efforts to try detainees, including Mohammed and other Sept. 11 suspects, in military tribunals at Guantanamo have bogged down over legal disputes. Only eight defendants have been fully prosecuted. Three verdicts have been overturned.

“The beauty of a guilty plea is you don’t need a trial,” said the senior administration official who supports the video plea proposal.

In February, senior Obama aides proposed pushing ahead with video guilty pleas at an interagency meeting at the White House on the closure of Guantanamo, according to officials briefed on the meeting.

Justice Department officials said they opposed video guilty pleas. Matthew Axelrod, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, said the proposal would violate laws of criminal procedure, according to the officials.

The meeting ended with an agreement to pursue new legislation allowing the guilty pleas, the officials said, which the Department of Justice supported.

One week later, President Obama rolled out his plan to close the prison in a nationally televised announcement from the Roosevelt Room. Obama’s plan included seeking “legislative changes … that might enable detainees who are interested in pleading guilty” in U.S. federal courts.

Administration officials spent much of the next two months drafting the new law. On a Friday afternoon in mid-April, White House staff emailed all the involved agencies with a final draft of the bill, according to the officials. The bill would be submitted to Congress the following Monday, the White House email said.

That weekend, Lynch intervened unexpectedly and said the Justice Department opposed the bill. The eleventh-hour move frustrated White House staff. Deciding again to not overrule Lynch, the White House shelved the bill.

In late May, White House officials found a sympathetic lawmaker who inserted language authorizing video pleas into the annual defense spending bill. The White House drafted a policy memo publicly supporting the proposal, which is known as a Statement of Administration Policy, or SAP.

Lynch opposed the idea, according to administration officials, sparking renewed tensions between the Justice Department and White House.

A SAP is the president’s public declaration on the substance of a bill, according to Samuel Kernell, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego. Without one, it’s often more difficult to get lawmakers on the fence to vote the way the White House wants.

The White House again bowed to Lynch’s objections and declined to issue the SAP.

(Additional reporting By David Rohde. Editing by Michael Williams)

ISIS Built Their Own “Guantanamo”

A former ISIS hostage has written that ISIS build their own version of “Guantanamo” to torture Western hostages near Aleppo.

They said that “Jihadi John” staged mock executions at the facility.

Javier Espinosa, a Spanish journalist, recorded his memories in the newspaper El Mundo.

Espinosa said that the prisoners called their guards “The Beatles” and that they focused on showing the prisoners what could happen to them.

“The Beatles … loved this sort of theatre. They had me sat on the floor, barefoot, with a shaven head, a thick beard and dressed in the ‘orange’ uniform’ that had made Guantanamo, the American prison, famous,” Espinosa wrote, according to Scotsman.

“Jihadi John wanted maximum drama. He had brought along an antique sword of the kind Muslim armies used in the Middle Ages. It was a blade of almost a meter in length with a silver handle,” added Espinosa, who was kidnapped on Sept. 16, 2013 and freed on March 29, 2014.

Espinosa said that executed American James Foley told him ISIS had been planning this for a long time.

“‘They had this project for a long time. The [head guard] told us at the beginning they wanted to intern Westerners in a high-security prison with cameras and lots of guards.’ ‘They told us that we would be here for a very long time, because we were the first ones they captured,'” Foley told him.

Administration Releases Five Terrorists From Guantanamo

Five Islamic terrorists from Yemen have been released from Guantanamo Bay by the Obama administration and four were sent to Oman.

Oman is right next door to Yemen and it would be likely the terrorists could then simply cross the border into Yemen and return to their terror cells.  The fifth terrorist was sent to Estonia.

“The United States coordinated with the Government of Oman to ensure these transfers took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures,” the DOD said.

Yemen has been in the spotlight since the terrorist attacks in Paris because the Al Qaeda affiliates located in Yemen planned the operations.  Republican Senators are calling on the administration to stop the release of terrorists from Guantanamo and returning them to Middle East.

“It’s clear that we need a time out,” Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) said.  “Now is not the time to be emptying Guantanamo.”

Anti-Christian Group Attacks More Naval Nativity Scenes

The vehemently anti-Christian Military Religious Freedom Foundation has launched yet another assault to remove anything connected to Christianity from being on military bases.

The commander of the Guantanamo Bay naval base removed Nativity scenes from two dining halls after the anti-Christianist group claimed their existence promoted Christianity.

A spokesman for the base commander said the displays had been set up by contractors who run the dining halls and that they had absolutely no intention to endorse any religion.

The spokesman said base officials did not receive a single complaint about the displays.  The MRFF made their usual claim that soldiers they could not name complained to them about the display.  The MRFF routinely claims that anonymous soldiers are behind their campaign to eradicate Christian symbols from military installations.