US judge won't release ex-Taliban minister

A U.S. judge says the military can continue holding a former high-ranking Taliban government official at Guantánamo Bay even though Afghanistan’s Peace Council requested his release from the Cuban island prison.

Khairullah Khairkhwa, born in 1967, was a Taliban government media spokesman, governor and Cabinet minister but maintains he was merely a civil servant and had no military role.

But in an unclassified ruling filed Thursday, U.S. Judge Ricardo Urbina said evidence indicated he had military responsibilities, including meeting with Iranian officials to discuss delivery of weapons to help fight U.S. coalition forces.

Khairkhwa was brought to the prison camps in southeast Cuba on May 1, 2002, according to a U.S. military intelligence assessment written in March 2008 that recommended his continued detention.

The report, signed by then prison camps commander Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, predicted that he would pose a high threat to the United States and its allies, and was of “high intelligence value,” meaning U.S. military interrogators had much to learn from him.

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Intelligence analysts then believed he still had information to divulge about Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, al Qaeda and the Iranian support of Taliban operation in Afghanistan, among other topics.

Buzby’s report described Khairkhwa as a cooperative captive who in May 2003 “threw water and body fluids at the guard force” and had incited other captives to create disturbances but had been mostly behaved in 2007 and 2008.

Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, a commission set up by President Hamid Karzai, has asked that Khairkhwa be returned to Kabul to help facilitate peace talks between the government and Taliban leaders.

The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg contributed to this report from Miami.

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