McCaul and Wilson call for Americans in Taliban custody to be classified as ‘hostages’

Photo: Reuters.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul and Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia Chairman Joe Wilson have expressed deep concern over the Taliban’s detention of American citizens and have asked the Biden administration to do more to secure their release and to immediately classify the detainees as hostages.

In a letter to US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, McCaul and Wilson said: “As you know, the detainees in Afghanistan have yet to be classified as either ‘wrongfully detained’ or as ‘hostages,’ leaving them in a kind of limbo.”

They said in the absence of official classification, “it is unclear whether SPEHA, the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell (HRFC), or some other office has the lead in securing the release of these Americans. As far as we know, no senior official from the State Department or Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has briefed Members on these cases or clarified the extent of the U.S. government’s engagement with the Taliban on this issue.”

The two members went on to say they are forced to wonder if departments have been allowed to do their jobs “or have been prevented from acting to save these Americans in order to avoid unwanted complications for the White House.”

This comes after Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed on March 23 while testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee that several Americans are being detained by the Taliban.

Blinken told the committee that “several Americans are being detained by the Taliban” and said Washington is working to “secure their freedom”. He said however that the families of the detained Americans had asked for their identities to be protected.

He did not provide details on how many Americans were involved nor did he provide details on the reasons for the detentions.

No further details have since been released, and as McCaul and Wilson said in their letter, “for many Members, Secretary Blinken’s testimony was the first they learned that Americans were detained in Afghanistan.”

They reiterated the call for “immediate classification of all Americans detained by the Taliban as ‘hostages’ so that HRFC can take action.” They also listed questions and demanded a written response by no later than May 31 from the NSA.

First on the list of questions was how many U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents are detained by the Taliban? They asked for a detailed explanation of the delay in designating American detainees in Afghanistan as “wrongfully detained” or as “hostages.”

McCaul and Wilson also raised the question as to whether the Biden Administration has classified the detainees in Afghanistan as “wrongfully” detained” in order to avoid inadvertently legitimizing the Taliban as the official government of Afghanistan.

They asked whether a request, from the White House or any other department or agency, had been made to the Department of Justice to launch a hostage investigation into the cases of detained Americans in Afghanistan and whether an interagency group had been convened to discuss the cases of American detainees in Afghanistan?
Other questions asked were on issues relating to a “hostage” classification and whether policies, strategies and procedures for the recovery of the US citizens had been drawn up.

Questions were also raised on whether White House officials had directly engaged with the Taliban on the issue of the detentions. In line with this, McCaul and Wilson called for an unclassified list of all U.S. government officials who have directly engaged the Taliban on the issue of American detainees since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

McCaul and Wilson also asked whether President Joe Biden had been briefed on the case of “the American detainee in Afghanistan who is experiencing potentially life-threatening health problems.”