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CIA is said to seek custody of a seized Taliban chief

Afghan Taliban military commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was captured in Pakistan last month. U.S. officials say he is not revealing useful information and want him transferred to Bagram air base.

February 19, 2010|By Greg Miller

Reporting from Washington — The Afghan Taliban military commander captured last month in Pakistan has refused to provide information that could be used against his insurgent network, prompting the CIA to push for his transfer to a U.S.-run prison in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said Friday.

The proposal reflects U.S. frustration with the interrogation of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was taken into custody by Pakistanis working with the CIA nearly a month ago. It also points to the Obama administration's dilemma over what to do with so-called high-value detainees.

As the Taliban's military commander, Baradar is believed to have extensive knowledge of the network's operations and finances.

"This guy should be able to give out everything from bank account numbers to where training camps are located," said a U.S. government official familiar with efforts to question Baradar. "He's not doing any of that."

The CIA was denied direct access to Baradar for about two weeks and has since worked with Pakistani interrogators, who control the questioning. But officials said they had learned nothing from Baradar that could be used to find other Taliban leaders or plan U.S. military operations.

A second U.S. official said "Baradar is talking" but acknowledged concern about the information's reliability. "His debriefing could well be an extended affair," he said.

CIA Director Leon E. Panetta and other officials have proposed moving Baradar to the U.S.-run prison at the Bagram air base north of Kabul, the Afghan capital. But officials acknowledged that the prospects for such a transfer were uncertain because of legal and diplomatic obstacles, as well as potential objections from Pakistan.

The CIA declined to comment on the plan. But one of the U.S. officials said that "Baradar's an Afghan, so it's only logical that his home country might be considered as an ultimate destination."

However, Baradar, as a former member of the ruling Taliban regime in Afghanistan, also is believed to have long-standing ties to Pakistan's intelligence service. U.S. officials and experts said Pakistan might be reluctant to turn over a prisoner who could reveal details about that relationship.

Moving Baradar to Bagram would give American interrogators control over his questioning, and the U.S. Army's interrogation rules would apply.

But a transfer to Bagram poses potential problems. The prison already holds several detainees captured outside Afghanistan. The Pentagon has been reluctant to accept more out of concern that the facility might become a source of international scorn, much like the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Pentagon already is engaged in a legal fight to prevent prisoners from using U.S. courts to challenge their Bagram detentions. And U.S. commanders are planning to turn detainees over to Afghan control.

Although Baradar's capture has been portrayed as a breakthrough in U.S. efforts to get Pakistan to pursue Taliban leaders, emerging details about the arrest challenge that conclusion.

Pakistani and CIA operatives did not know they had captured Baradar until they began sorting through suspects arrested Jan. 26 in a raid on the outskirts of Karachi. The raid was prompted by U.S. intelligence that "pointed to a meeting of his people," one of the U.S. officials said, but there was no expectation that Baradar would be there.

Only after Pakistani authorities began showing their CIA counterparts photos of the prisoners did operatives realize they were holding the highest-ranked Taliban leader seized in the eight-year Afghanistan war.

Separately Friday, Pakistani intelligence sources confirmed that a missile fired from a U.S. drone killed the brother of an Afghan Taliban commander.

Mohammed Haqqani, brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, was killed in an attack Thursday in North Waziristan, a region in Pakistan's tribal areas that remains largely Taliban-controlled. Three other militants were killed in the attack.

greg.miller@latimes.com

Times staff writers Julian E. Barnes in Washington and Alex Rodriguez in Karachi and special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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