WASHINGTON, June 3, 2014 — The White House has apologized for ignoring U.S. law by going around Congress in the agreement with the Taliban to release Bowe Bergdahl. President Obama says he saw the opportunity to negotiate for Bergdahl’s release, that he was concerned about Bergdahl’s health, and Qatar was willing to assist with the trade, so they had to take action quickly.
And everyone is glad to have this soldier back home on U.S. soil. The evidence is that, no matter the circumstances of his capture, his imprisonment was harsh and authentic.
Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., says that top White House officials, including Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken have called on her as Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, to apologize for not including her and other senior senate members in their decision to release five prisoners from Guantanamo in exchange for Bergdahl.
The White House is required by law to give Congress thirty days’ notice of any Guantanamo prisoner release. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he received a day or two of warning.
In an almost conciliatory tone, Feinstein said, “He apologized for it and said it was an oversight,” noting that “oversight” was her word, not his.
“It’s very disappointing that there was not a level of trust sufficient to justify alerting us. The White House is pretty unilateral about what they want to do and when they want to do it … But I think the notification to us is important.”
Feinstein has previously criticized the White House for their slow response to Benghazi, and says that the CIA may have broken laws in order to spy on the Senate.
Some Democrats are claiming that Republican outrage at the handling of the trade, and the release of the detainees, is being politicized in order to unfairly criticize the White House and President Obama.
Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., called the White House “arrogant” in its handling of this matter. Others have pointed out that the policy of not negotiating with terrorists, in spite of anecdotal tales of that happening in previous administrations, is in order to protect Americans, both military and civilians, abroad.
William Kristol, editor The Weekly Standard, is criticizing Susan Rice’s appearances on Sunday Morning talk shows. During those appearances she said that Bergdahl had been taken from the battlefield, referred to his honorable duty, and said what a joyous a day it was that this captive American had been released. Obama is also being criticized for making the initial announcement from the Rose Garden with Bergdahl’s parents, Bergdahl’s father praising Allah in Arabic at his side.
Kristol questions the White House’s motivation in the release, saying that Bergdahl’s release was a PR event orchestrated by the White House.
Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., has issued a statement calling the five Taliban detainees freed “the hardest of the hardcore” terrorists. Is he accurate in saying so?
According to PolitiFact.com, yes.
“From my general background, McCain, alas, is on target,” said James Jeffrey, visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank that studies American interests in the Middle East.
The final agreement reached was that in exchange for Bergdahl’s release, the Obama Administration would release five Taliban members.
PoliticFact (Tampa Bay Times) reports that Wikileakes has identified three of the five terrorists as:
• Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa. The leaked documents say Khairkhwa was close to both Omar and bin Laden, representing the Taliban in “meetings with Iranian officials seeking to support hostilities against U.S. and Coalition Forces” following the start of the United States war in Afghanistan. He was governor of Herat province from 1999 to 2001 and was alleged to be one of the “major opium drug lords in western Afghanistan.”
Complicating matters somewhat, Khairkhwa was in discussions with the family of post-war Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, a longtime friend, about possibly cooperating with the new government when he was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and brought to Guantanamo.
• Abdul Haq Wasiq. Wasiq was the deputy chief of the Taliban’s intelligence service and “was central to the Taliban’s efforts to form alliances with other Islamic fundamentalist groups to fight alongside the Taliban against U.S. and Coalition forces after the 11 September 2001 attacks,” according to the leaked documents, which added that he “utilized his office to support al-Qaida and to assist Taliban personnel elude capture” in late 2001. He is believed to have “arranged for al-Qaeda personnel to train Taliban intelligence staff in intelligence methods.”
Wasiq claimed to be offering cooperation to the United States, though the U.S. government has officially been skeptical of those claims.
• Mohammad Nabi Omari. Leaked documents describe Omari as “a senior Taliban official who served in multiple leadership roles,” including membership in a joint al-Qaida-Taliban cell in Khowst that “was involved in attacks against U.S. and coalition forces.” Omari also “maintained weapons caches and facilitated the smuggling of fighters and weapons,” the documents say.
Omari, like Wasiq, was apprehended while claiming to be providing intelligence of interest to the United States.
Also released in the trade where Mullah Norullah Noori and Mullah Mohammad Fazl.
Experts told PolitiFact that each of the five detainees represented risks to the United States’ national security to one degree or another, with Fazl and Noori at the top of the list.
“They were involved in a range of Taliban operations in senior positions,” said Seth G. Jones, associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation. After being released, the five will be able to leverage their time at Guantanamo, Jones added. “We’ve already seen Taliban statements that they’re pretty excited about the return of these men.”
Under the agreement the five senior Taliban members will remain under the control of the government of Qatar for one year where they will be subject to restrictions on their movement and activities.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday:
“It was the assessment of the secretary of defense, in consultation with the full national security team, that there were sufficient mitigation steps taken by Qatar and assurances received by the United States that these detainees do not pose a threat to U.S. national security,” he said.
Unfortunately, not everyone in Congress, or America, agrees with the Obama Administration, even as no one is unhappy that Bergdahl was released.
Until we get Bergdahl’s side of the story, his capture could have been because:
- He simply walked into the wrong place at the wrong time;
- He was actively tracked by the Taliban and captured;
- His disappearance was premeditated, as the outpost he was stationed at was heavily guarded and he could not have simply been captured or walked off.
Bergdahl is in the midst of an Army review beginning with a review of “comprehensive coordinated effort that will include speaking with Sgt. Bergdahl to determine the circumstances of his disappearance.”
For now the army will let Bergdahl recover before they begin the fact-finding investigation, which will begin with a conversation with Bergdahl to determine the circumstances of his disappearance.
The Army commanders will then proceed with the next steps that could be as simple as a release from the Army or some form of discipline for any actions Bergdahl may have taken. Bergdahl’s disappearance did alter the mission of some units in Afghanistan.
On June 30, 2009, then-PFC Bergdahl left the Third Platoon’s remote post in Paktika Province on the border of Pakistan, leaving behind a note saying he was “disillusioned” with the Army. When he disappeared he had with him a “soft backpack” that included water, knives, a notebook and writing materials. But he did not take body armor or weapons.
“Yes, I’m angry,” Joshua Cornelison, a former medic in Sergeant Bergdahl’s platoon, said in an interview on Monday arranged by Republican strategists. “Everything that we did in those days was to advance the search for Bergdahl. If we were doing some mission and there was a reliable report that Bergdahl was somewhere, our orders were that we were to quit that mission and follow that report.”
Army reports are that predator drones, Apache attack helicopters and military tracking dogs were all used in the search for Bergdahl. A former leader of the platoon said on CNN that he is glad that Bergdahl is back and for that small victory. However, he continued, “we gave up a lot for what we got.”
Other unit members say that Bergdahl was a loner, often found in his bunk learning Dari, Arabic and Pashto languages using Rosetta Stone. Other reports are that he had sent his personal belongings home just prior to his disappearance.
The search for Bergdahl led to deaths of two soldiers, Pfc. Matthew Martinek and Lt. Darryn Andrews, and quite possibly six others. However, senior officers have said that there is no direct evidence that the search for Bergdahl, including the diversion of surveillance aircraft or troops to search for Bergdahl, led to the deaths of other soldiers.
“This was a dangerous region in Afghanistan in the middle of the ‘fighting season,’” the officer said in an email, adding that although the search “could have created some opportunities for the enemy,” it is “difficult to establish a direct cause and effect.”
Bergdahl will be seeing his parents, but only after he has completed some physical recovery and psychological assessments.
After five years in captivity, he probably is not in a position to talk about his ordeal in any great length, and reports are that his health is fragile.
Secretary of the Army John McHugh said, “we are grateful that an American soldier is back in American hands” and insisted, “our first priority is ensuring Sgt. Bergdahl’s health and beginning his reintegration process.”
Rear Adm. John F. Kirby, Pentagon spokesman, told the NY Times that there was a larger matter at play: The American military does not leave soldiers behind.
“When you’re in the Navy, and you go overboard, it doesn’t matter if you were pushed, fell or jumped,” he said. “We’re going to turn the ship around and pick you up.”