A President, Prisoners, and the Price We Paid

In what can only be described as a “stunning” move by President Obama, just days ago he authorized the release of five Taliban prisoners previously held at the prison in Guantanamo Bay in exchange for the return of US Army Soldier Bowe Bergdahl.  It’s been awhile so you may or may not remember that Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban roughly five years after walking off base while serving in Afghanistan.  The circumstances regarding his capture and how he ended up off base have never been made public but bits and pieces have made their way to light.

In 2012, emails supposedly sent from Bergdahl to his father before his capture were released.  The emails illustrate Bergdahl’s disgust with the US mission in Afghanistan and allude to his desire to desert the Army, even talking about trying to make his way to Pakistan.  Shortly after that an article was published in Rolling Stone magazine which included comments from Soldiers supposedly stationed with Bergdahl in Afghanistan.  In the interview Soldiers commented that Bergdahl frequently spent time with the Afghanis, spoke openly about deserting, and even went so far as to mail home most all of his personal belongings shortly before his capture.  And then there was this very strange and suspect tweet posted by Bergdahl’s father which was quickly removed, “I am still working to free all Guantanamo prisoners.  God will repay for the death of every Afghan child. Ameen!”

Just today a story broke on Twitter where an alleged squad mate of Bergdahl’s gives his first hand account of exactly what happened the night of his disappearance and in the days leading up to it.  The Soldier, identified by his Twitter handle CodyFNfootball talks about Bergdahl’s reclusive behavior in the weeks leading up to their deployment, his time spent trying to learn the local Afghan languages, his purchase of a Soviet style AK-47 rifle, and his frequent inquiries into how his equipment might get reported if he were to “lose” it.  “Cody” talks about Bergdahl’s openly stated desire to “walk to China”, and recounts that Bergdahl did indeed mail home his personal belongings shortly before his disappearance.  “Cody” describes what happened the night Bergdahl went missing and the search for him afterward.  He recounts that some local Afghan children recalled seeing an American crawling through the grass alone in the dark.  Some local villagers also claimed to have seen an American come through their village wanting water and supposedly asking for someone to introduce him to the local Taliban fighters.  “Cody’s” story is still fresh and has yet to be verified but if it does prove to be true then his tale shows that not only was Bergdahl a deserter but also a traitor who was attempting to defect to the enemy.  As I said, none of this has been verified as of yet.

What is truly stunning about this entire situation is not that Bergdahl appears to have been a deserter.  It’s not even that he may have attempted to defect.  No.  What is truly stunning is the price President Obama paid to retrieve this man.  Obama authorized the release of five Taliban prisoners, and not just any five.  He released the five most senior Taliban prisoners we had. Mohammad Fazl, Khirullah Khairkhwa, Abdul Haq Wasiq, Mullah Norullah Noori, and Mohammad Nabi Omari.

Let us examine who these men are:  Fazl was the Taliban’s deputy defense minister during the early days of the war.  Khairkhwa served as the Taliban interior minister and governor of Herat and is also alleged to have had close personal ties to Osama bin Laden.  Wasiq was the Taliban’s deputy minister of intelligence; one of his jobs was to build the Taliban’s global network of terrorist and jihadist groups.  Noori was a senior Taliban military commander and also a regional governor.  And Omari held several high positions within the Taliban including chief of security.  Did I mention that Fazl and Noori are also accused of war crimes including the mass execution of thousands of Shia Muslim civilians?  So not only did we trade five very high ranking Taliban prisoners for one apparent deserter, but two of them are war criminals who supposedly facilitated the mass executions of thousands of people.

But hold on, it gets much worse when you examine the situation more closely.  Take a moment and ask yourself how many American military personnel, men and women, died capturing these five individuals.  Five?  Ten?  A hundred?  A Thousand?  Without doubt lives were lost during the capture of these people and now the Obama administration has put a value on those lost lives.  The lives of those lost during the operations which resulted in the capture of these senior Taliban officials are worth exactly one man, a man who appears to have been a deserter and may or may not have been a defector.

And to top it all off this entire thing was a violation of standing US law.  You see Congress is required by law to be notified 30 days prior to any change in status of US-held prisoners of war.  The reason for this is so Congress can determine whether or not there is any danger to America or our allies and interests and if so, can that danger be mitigated.  Obama authorized this prisoner exchange without notifying Congress in clear violation of our laws.

So who is the big winner in all this? America?  We got returned to us the only known American Soldier being held in captivity, but there are serious and alarming concerns about the character and quality of this Soldier and the events surrounding his capture.  Particularly if he was intending to defect as “Cody” makes it seem.  The Taliban?  They got returned to them five of their highest ranking prisoners held by the US in exchange for one very suspect Soldier, and they got the President of the United States to violate US law to do it.  The circumstances of this ordeal will no doubt further fragment our already divided nation which only helps to improve the bargaining position of the Taliban in future talks.  And they got the United States of America to violate one of our most inviolate rules that the United States does not negotiate with terrorists.  Apparently we do, and apparently we’re not very good at it.

J.S. Franklin is a Constitutionalist and does not subscribe to any particular political party. He served nearly a decade in the United States Army and has degrees in Psychology and Criminal Justice with a focus on Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism.
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