The Price We Paid For Bergdahl

Jun 5 2014 @ 12:35pm

Zack Beauchamp profiles the five Taliban commanders we freed in exchange for our POW:

Internal Pentagon reports label all of them “high risks” to the United States. These Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 12.25.56 PMGuanatanamo dossiers, helpfully reviewed by Daily Beast reporters Eli Lake and Josh Rogin, suggest that some of them have links to al-Qaeda and Iranian plots against American troops in Afghanistan.

Independent experts are somewhat skeptical of these claims. [Afghan Analysts Network’s Kate] Clark, for one, calls the documents on the five inmates “peculiar, opaquely sourced and peppered with factual errors.” The “claims made in the Guantanamo Bay tribunals and in press reports sourced to un-named US officials,” she says, “frequently do not stand up to close inspection.” But even if we throw the US intelligence reports completely out the window, this prisoner swap should still be troubling. Even Clark concedes there’s good reason to believe [Mullah Mohammad] Fazl committed war crimes.

Eli Lake relays concerns from the intelligence community that Qatar, where the five detainees are being transferred, will accidentally-on-purpose lose track of them:

[T]here are other reasons U.S. intelligence officials are worried about Qatar. The emirate is a good place to raise money for terrorist organizations. Late last year, the Treasury Department placed sanctions on Abdul Rahman Omeir al-Naimi, a Qatari history professor and human rights activist, for raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for al Qaeda’s affiliates in Iraq, Somalia, and Yemen.

In March, David Cohen, the undersecretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a speech to the Center for a New American Security that while Qatar is a longtime U.S. ally, it also has “for many years openly financed Hamas, a group that continues to undermine regional stability.” Cohen also referenced press reports that indicated Qatar’s support for extremists in Syria. The State Department’s latest report on counterterrorism says that while Qatar has cooperated with the United States in some important areas of counterterrorism, its efforts to stop fundraising for terrorist groups have been inconsistent.

Like Greenwald, Sean Davis suspects that Bergdahl was just the administration’s cover for closing Gitmo:

It was never about Bowe Bergdahl. Make no mistake: judging by the behavior of the White House as this story has unfolded, the Obama administration’s primary goal was not the return of likely deserter (and rumored defector) Bowe Bergdahl. The primary goal was making it easier to finally shut down Guantanamo Bay, a 2008-era campaign promise that President Barack Obama was regularly mocked for failing to keep. Bowe Bergdahl was just the perfect political cover, or at least he was supposed to be.

Allahpundit is on the same page:

The “euphoria” Obama expected after Bergdahl’s release was supposed to be the perfume masking the stench from sending five lethal degenerates back into the jihadi ranks as a prelude to closing Gitmo entirely. Remember, he said in his State of the Union address in January that this was the year he wanted the prison shut down; that was one month after the ransom idea for Bergdahl had been dropped. Having resolved to exploit his lame-duck status to the fullest in 2014 and proceed with shuttering Gitmo, he recognized that Bergdahl would be better used as a consolation prize in handing over Taliban leaders than as part of some dubious ransom deal.

Bazelon criticizes Obama for his willingness to let these high-risk Gitmo prisoners go while dozens of others remain locked up indefinitely despite having been ruled innocent and harmless:

[W]hat about the suffering of Jihad Ahmed Mujstafa Diyab, the Syrian held in Guantánamo for 12 years without a trial, a man on the 2010 list of recommended transfers, who is being strapped against his will into a chair so a feeding tube can be forced into his nose and down his throat? The government doesn’t want to send Diyab back to Syria in the middle of the war there. Uruguay has offered to take him and five other detainees. Yet they’re still in Gitmo. As Andy Worthington writes at PolicyMic, for the 78 men cleared for transfer who remain imprisoned, “the release of the five Taliban prisoners is unlikely to cause anything but despair.”

P.M. Carpenter focuses on the nomenclature pundits are using to describe the “worst of the worst”:

Are the freed Taliban “warriors” terrorists? Were they prisoners of war? Are they jihadists? [the WaPo’s Kathleen] Parker conflates the three as though there are no distinctions to be bothered with, or troubled by. Yet the distinctions are critical ones; there’s a vast gulf in meaning between “prisoner of war” and “terrorist,” and even between terrorist and “jihadist.” … President Obama released prisoners of war, precisely as George Washington did. Such clarity might not kill the right’s outrage–would anything?–but it would contribute to more calm in the mainstream debate, which, at the moment, is hopelessly muddled and all over the road.

Will Saletan defends making the deal on the same basis:

Sgt. Bergdahl was not a noncombatant. He was a prisoner of war, captured on the field of battle. Therefore, by definition, his capture wasn’t terrorism. Negotiating for his release, trading enemy combatants for our own combatant, isn’t a concession to terrorism. It’s conformity with the long-standing tradition of exchanging POWs.

According to Sen. Ted Cruz, “The reason why the U.S. has had the policy for decades of not negotiating with terrorists is because once you start doing it, every other terrorist has an incentive to capture more soldiers.” That’s ridiculous. Terrorists didn’t invent the capture of soldiers. It’s a basic military objective, with a standard option to trade the enemy’s soldiers for yours. The reason not to negotiate with terrorists is to discourage the seizure of civilians, not the seizure of soldiers. So Obama’s critics are wrong to believe that negotiating for Bergdahl sends a dangerous message to terrorists. But they’re also ignoring the message his abandonment would have sent to our troops, their families, and prospective military recruits. It would have betrayed our pledge that if you’re captured in service to our country, we’ll free you.

But a Taliban commander close to the negotiations confirms that the Bergdahl trade makes his compatriots more eager to capture American soldiers:

“It’s better to kidnap one person like Bergdahl than kidnapping hundreds of useless people,” the commander said, speaking by telephone on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. “It has encouraged our people. Now everybody will work hard to capture such an important bird.”

The commander has been known to TIME for several years and has consistently supplied reliable information about Bergdahl’s captivity.

Previous Dish on Bergdahl here, here, here, and here.