Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Illegal Bergdahl Deal: Sordid Details, Troubling Implications

Guy Benson | Jan 27, 2015

(Bloomberg) -- A video released by the Taliban shows the handover of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from their custody to U.S. Special Forces. 

Multiple news sources are now reporting that the US Army is charging Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl -- the American soldier handed over by terrorist hostage takers in exchange for the release of five high-ranking Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay last spring -- with desertion.  This comes as no surprise for those who followed the Bergdahl controversy closely; as Katie reminded us earlier, Bergdahl's platoon mates unanimously spoke out against his actions.  The evidence of his desertion is overwhelming.  Other facts suggest that he may have crossed a line into active collaboration with the enemy.  Despite the fact that the military had drawn negative conclusions about Bergdahl's conduct as far back as 2010 and declined to list him as POW, White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice declared that his service was marked by "honor and distinction" on national television.  This was part and parcel of the Obama administration's public relations strategy surrounding the entire affair: Wave the flag about a captured American returning home to his family, and hope that the good vibes and emotional images of relieved family members and friends would crowd out the more sordid details -- such as the freed terrorists' long trail of blood and destruction, Bergdahl's alleged crimes, and the manner in which Obama bypassed strong objections from top military and intelligence officials to close the deal.  Remember this?
Leaders of the U.S. intelligence community and military were opposed to freeing five senior Taliban commanders in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl when the White House first began exploring the prisoner swap in 2011 and 2012. The U.S. military wanted to bring Bergdahl home, but releasing Mullah Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Abdul Haq Wasiq, Khairullah Khairkhwa, and Mohammed Nabi Omari was seen as too dangerous at the time. James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, according to three U.S. intelligence officials flat out rejected the release of the five detainees, saying there was too high a risk these Taliban commanders would return to the battlefield and orchestrate attacks against Americans. Clapper was not alone. Leon Panetta, who was then the Secretary of Defense, declined to certify that the United States could mitigate the risk to national interests of releasing the Taliban commanders...Current U.S. intelligence and defense officials who spoke to The Daily Beast on Monday say the process for exchanging Taliban for Bergdahl this time was rushed and closely held, in some instances leaving little room for any push back against a policy clearly favored by the White House. “This was an example of forcing the consensus,” one U.S. military official said. “The White House knew the answer they wanted and they ended up getting it.”

The administration has insisted that the Bergdahl swap was not an instance of the US government violating its longstanding policy against negotiating with terrorists, assuring the country that it was a routine prisoner exchange.  This assertion is contradicted by the nature of Bergdahl's captors, and the White House's own spin that the plan had to be hatched and executed quickly, without informing Congress (as required by law), because the terrorists had threatened to kill Bergdahl.  That's not how routine prisoner exchanges work.  Another one of their excuses wilted under light scrutiny.  The reality is that the Obama administration has been ideologically hellbent on emptying Gitmo for years, despite Congress' repeated refusals to go along.  This scenario offered the president a chance to "get rid of" five dangerous terrorists and dress it up as a happy homecoming story. So the decision was made to (effectively, if not explicitly) negotiate with terrorists, then deny that any such thing had occurred. Now five influential jihadist captains are living comfortably in this "allied" nation, and a probable deserter/collaborator is set to stand trial here at home.  Does anyone doubt rumors that White House officials tried to stall the investigation and keep the desertion charges under wraps?

According to Shaffer, the Obama official at the center of these political machinations is the now-infamous Ben Rhodes, of course.  News of the desertion charges thrusts the administration's terrorist-releasing policies back into the spotlight, raising fresh questions:

Before he was released from a U.S. maximum-security prison last week,a confessed al Qaeda sleeper agent was offered up in a potential prisoner swap that would have freed two Americans held abroad. The Daily Beast has learned that the proposal was floated in July 2014 to the then-U.S. ambassador in Qatar by an individual acting on behalf of that country’s attorney general. According to two individuals with direct knowledge of the case, the proposition was made shortly after the Obama administration traded five Taliban fighters for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Those fighters were also sent to Qatar, where they’re to remain under government watch until later this year. U.S. officials have said they’re at risk of plotting further attacks against the United States. The proposed swap involving the al Qaeda agent, Ali Saleh Al-Marri, raises troubling questions about whether the Bergdahl trade opened a kind of Pandora’s box, signaling to foreign governments that they can pressure the United States to make concessions on terrorism by trading American prisoners abroad for dangerous extremists held in the United States.

The administration denies that Al-Marri's early release from federal prison -- which we wrote about just last week -- was tied to any quid pro quo.  Why should Americans believe that claim?

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