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Commentary: Prisoner Swap: One American (Bowe Bergdahl) for five Taliban?
Published on June 6, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Anthony L Hall

Let me state from the outset that US presidents insisting they do not negotiate with terrorists is belied by the fact that every one from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama has done so.

Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant - headquartered in Washington DC - who also publishes a current events weblog, The iPINIONS Journal, at
It’s hardly surprising, of course, that Republicans -- for whom Obama can do no right -- are damning him for negotiating with Taliban hostage takers. Yet these same Republicans -- for whom Reagan could do no wrong -- would rather bite off their tongues than damn him for negotiating with Hezbollah hostage takers.

But who can forget the imperial ignorance Reagan displayed during the mid 1980s, when he dispatched a CIA officer to present the Iranian Ayatollah with a cake and Bible as inducement to get the Ayatollah to prevail upon his Hezbollah stooges to release their American hostages. Not to mention that none of Obama's critics would dare go on record saying that they would rather let an American soldier rot in captivity than negotiate his release with terrorists.

In a similar vein, US presidents insisting they had no dealings with terrorists because a third party (in this case the Emir of Qatar) negotiated all of the details is rather like Johns insisting they had no dealings with prostitutes because an escort service negotiated all of the details.

That said:

The sense of pride expressed by officials of the Obama administration at the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is not shared by many of those who served with him -- veterans and soldiers who call him a deserter whose ‘selfish act’ ended up costing the lives of better men.

‘I was pissed off then and I am even more so now with everything going on,’ said former Sgt. Matt Vierkant, a member of Bergdahl’s platoon when he went missing on June 30, 2009. ‘Bowe Bergdahl deserted during a time of war and his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him.’

(CNN, June 2, 2014)

I don’t blame the platoon mates he left in the lurch for resenting the way Bergdahl is now starring in a perverse version of the parable of the prodigal son. After all, Obama knew (based on the Pentagon’s own report) that his fellow soldiers consider Bergdahl a deserter. His reasons for going AWOL are immaterial.

This is why Obama should have merely issued a written statement, which would have shown due regard for the Army’s esprit de corps and avoided the spectacle of his fellow soldiers now feeling compelled to publicly condemn him.

Frankly, inviting Bergdahl’s parents to a White House ceremony on Saturday to announce his release amounted to dancing on the graves of the soldiers who died searching for him. I will note, though, that at least their mission was more honorable than that of civilian officials who die each year trying to rescue adventure-seeking idiots who get stranded on mountains or lost at sea.

And don’t get me started on the Stockholm Syndrome even his parents appear to be suffering -- complete with his father, Bob Bergdahl, growing a Taliban-like beard, learning the Taliban language Pashto, and tweeting anti-American rants like the following to no less a person than a Taliban spokesman on May 28, just days before his son’s release:

@ABalkhiI am still working to free all Guantanamo prisoners. God will repay for the death of every Afghan child, ameen.

In any event, Bergdahl clearly has some ‘splainin to do, which I suspect will come during court martial proceedings growing public outrage will now force the military to hold. For what it’s worth, I suspect his defense will be that, far from deserting, he merely set out, deliberately unarmed, to win the hearts and minds of Afghans missionary style, instead of continuing to try in the Robocop style ordered by high command that was winning precious few converts. Reports are that he was arrested within hours of leaving camp, well short of the 30 days or so required to prove a case of intentional desertion.

Meanwhile, this Bergdahl story is only further vindicating the warning I issued almost six years ago. I did so because, instead of releasing five terrorists for one (living) soldier — as Obama just did, the Israeli prime minister released 100 for one dead soldier:

Such deals reflect a relative value Israelis place on their soldiers versus Arab soldiers that is untenable…

I can see why Arab militants consider kidnapping such a good strategy to execute against the Israelis in their never-ending war.

(“1 Dead Israeli Worth 100 Living Palestinians,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 17, 2008)

Sure enough, the Israelis themselves soon vindicated my warning:

I am not at all surprised by reports this week that the Israelis have just struck another deal with the Palestinians, which calls for Israel to release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in return for one (living) Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit -- whom the Palestinians captured notoriously five years ago when he was only 19.

The only thing noteworthy about this development is the inflationary value for Israeli soldiers this latest deal reflects.

(“1 Israeli Soldier Worth 1000 Palestinians?” The iPINIONS Journal, October 13, 2011)

As I indicated above, the problem is not negotiating with terrorists, which is a time-honored practice. And, by the way, congressmen harping about Obama breaking the law because he did not give Congress a 30-day heads up on Bergdahl’s release is rather like policemen harping about firemen breaking the law because they exceeded the speed limit while rushing to put out a fire. Any congressional hearing on this matter will amount to nothing more than just another politically motivated dog and pony show.

No, the problem is this American president aping Israeli prime ministers by reinforcing the jingoistic folly of placing an irrational and unsustainable value on one captured soldier (even an alleged deserter). Instead of this five-for-one prisoner swap, for example, Obama should have insisted that he was being gracious by swapping just one high-value Taliban soldier for one low-level American soldier. Period.

Finally, for the record, concerns about this prisoner swap encouraging terrorists to kidnap more US soldiers is belied by the fact that terrorists have been trying to kidnap them ever since 9/11, mostly to no avail … for obvious reasons (i.e., they don’t usually wander off, alone and unarmed, into hostile territory).

Also, arguments about these Guantanamo prisoners returning to the battlefield are patently specious. Not only because US troops will be practically untouchable on military bases in Afghanistan, but also because the United States has more to fear from Americans returning home as suicide bombers than from Taliban leaders giving Obama any excuse to kill them with drones.

Indeed, the NSA will probably be spying on Bergdahl to ensure that he has not been so indoctrinated by the Taliban that he’s on a mission now to commit the kind of terror returning POW Sgt. Nicholas Brody, his TV alter ego, committed in the hit series Homeland..

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1 dead Israeli

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