Washington considered swapping a known Al Qaeda terrorist imprisoned in the US for jailed Americans in Qatar, an ex-diplomat stated to Fox News Monday evening.
"There's no disputing the fact. I don't care what they say – the idea was floated," Richard Grenell, an ex-diplomat who worked on the case, told the news agency.
The terrorist was named as Ali Saleh al-Marri, a terrorist in US custody since 2001 who the Justice Department released last month for "time served." al-Marri, who apparently had knowledge on dozens of terror attacks, would have been swapped for Matthew and Grace Huang, two Americans living in Qatar who were held in connection to the mysterious death of their adopted daughter.
The story was first broken by the Daily Beast Sunday, but only garnered a series of denials from government officials.
“No such proposal was ever on the table,” a State Department spokesperson told the outlet, insisting that the terrorist's eventual release was not due to any deal with Qatar. A second unnamed administration official insisted as well that al-Marri was released "as a matter of course" – and released early from the Supermax maximum security prison on good behavior, having served only 87 months of his 100-month sentence.
Grenell admitted that he believed officials when they claimed they did not negotiate in al-Marri's actual release, but slammed the decision for "send[ing] the message to our friends and allies and even our enemies that we'll negotiate."
To worsen maters, al-Marri was welcomed home with a hero's welcome, including a celebration held in his honor, according to the Beast.
Prisoner swaps a new norm?
US President Barack Obama's second term has been marked with a number of terrorist swaps.
In May, the policy became the subject of intense scrutiny after the controversial return home of US soldier and longtime captive Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was traded for five top Taliban terrorists.
Critics said that, in making the quiet trade for Bergdahl, the administration violated the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, which requires a 30-day warning before releasing terrorists from the compound – charges that US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel denied.
Hagel also made a number of remarks indicating that the terrorists' release – which the Taliban called "a victory," sparking the desire to kidnap more soldiers – was necessary to save Bergdahl's life, indicating an "ends justify the means" approach.
Weeks later, an anonymous White House official revealed to Reuters that a Frenchman, a Kuwaiti and ten Pakistani prisoners were sent back to their respective home countries at the end of May.
More recently, Obama completed a high-profile prisoner swap with Cuba, in exchange for longtime Jewish-American captive Alan Gross and began a controversial normalization process with Havana as well.