Political incongruities: From Bergdahl to Benghazi

IMAGE: Flickr (BY U.S. Army)

RANCHO SANTA FE, Calif., June 2, 2014 — The United States’ military commitment to “no man left behind” was briefly resuscitated from its politically-weakened condition last week. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was retrieved from the Taliban-aligned Haqqani terrorist network in return for five members of the Taliban who had been held as prisoners in Guantanamo.

The incongruities of Bergdahl’s captivity and release accentuate the political maneuverings of our nation’s major political parties and the pendulum of irrational action that swings between them.

The facts surrounding the return of America’s last prisoner of war are particularly interesting.

Sgt. Bergdahl went missing on June 30, 2009. His official status was temporarily “Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown” (DUSTWUN). After he appeared in a Haqqani video three days later, his status was changed to “Missing-Captured,” which it remained until his release.

READ ALSO: The Bergdahl-Taliban prisoner exchange: Is the Administration telling the whole truth?

You will note that his rank changed during his captivity. He was promoted to Specialist on June 10, 2010, and to Sergeant on June 12, 2011. As a Missing-Captured, he was entitled to be considered for all promotions for which he was eligible (along with all associated pay and allowances). The significance of this will be clear later.

The Haqqani network originally demanded the release of 21 Afghan prisoners along with Aafia Siddiqui and $1 million. One could argue that the $1 million was a tribute to Dr. Evil, but most people would agree with characterizing the 21 prisoners and Aafia Siddiqui as serious terrorists.

This ultimatum eventually eroded to a demand for the five Taliban operatives who ultimately were traded for Sgt. Bergdahl:

  • Mohammad Fazl, the Taliban’s former Deputy Defense Minister;
  • Abdul Haq Wasiq, the Taliban’s former Deputy Minister of Intelligence
  • Norullah Noori, a former interim Provincial Governor who, along with two other Governors, is accused of being responsible for alleged massacres of Shi’ite and Uzbek civilians;
  • Khairullah Khairkhwa, a former Taliban official and Governor of Herat; and
  • Mohammad Nabi Omari, who allegedly admitted serving Al Qaeda and/or the Taliban in a non-military capacity prior to 9/11 but who also claimed to be a loyal supporter of Afghan President Karzai as well as a covert operative for U.S. Intelligence.

The interesting component of this deal is that it appears to have been on the table since 2011. The only “significant” change is that the Qatar government has promised to receive these individuals and require them to stay with family members in Qatar for a minimum of one year. If that was the only “sticking point” and it still took three years to negotiate the exchange, we should be very concerned about how our nuclear negotiations are going with Iran.

To complicate matters, there are nearly as many stories about how and why Bergdahl went missing as there are people in the exchange.

There are those who argue that Bergdahl was a deserter. That might explain why no attempt was made to extract him from his Haqqani captors. But it is difficult to reconcile two promotions in rank with someone who was believed to have been a deserter.

The Taliban claimed that Bergdahl was drunk when it captured him. Yet, in the first video that was released following his capture, Bergdahl asserted that he had fallen behind his unit while on patrol. Why would the Taliban allow him to make that claim in a video if its story were true?

Others have suggested that Bergdahl was mentally unstable and simply wandered away. On this week’s Face the Nation, CBS News’ National Security Correspondent, David Martin conjectured, “He (Bergdahl) went walkabout. He just walked off his base without his weapon, without telling anybody. I mean, he has a lot of explaining to do about how he was captured. He has some idea about being able to walk across the breadth of Afghanistan. And, you know, it was a bad mistake.”

This theory appears to be based upon as fellow soldier’s comment that Sgt. Bergdahl once said, “If this deployment is lame, I’m just going to walk off into the mountains of Pakistan.” It also appears to be somewhat irresponsible reporting since it ignores the other possibilities.

Whose version is accurate? Only Bergdahl and a few members of the Taliban know for sure.

READ ALSO: What is the purpose, timetable and milestones for the Benghazi Committee?

With this background, let’s explore the myriad of incongruities with which Democratic and Republican leaders have positioned this story as compared to how they view the attacks on the consulate and annex in Benghazi, which left four Americans dead.

Republican leaders, such as Sen. John McCain, have been quite vocal about the Obama Administration’s failure to honor the principle of “no one left behind” in the case of Benghazi. They excoriated the Administration for failing to have authorized any attempt to save those who were under attack at the consulate. Yet, many of those same individuals have been critical of the Obama Administration for applying that principle of “no one left behind” to Sgt. Bergdahl.

In the latter case, they distinguish the circumstances by saying “the United States should not negotiate with terrorists.” They claim that the Haqqani network is a terrorist organization and the five released “detainees” are terrorists as well.

The latter point is particularly interesting because Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stated on Meet the Press: “We didn’t negotiate with terrorists. Sgt. Bergdahl is a prisoner of war, that’s a normal process in getting your prisoners back.” It should be noted that our military abandoned the use of the term “prisoner of war” in the year 2000. Perhaps someone should tell Sec. Hagel.

Semantics aside: Should the principle of “no one left behind” be objectively or subjectively applied. If left to the latter, political influence can play a nefarious role. No less of an authority than former-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says so.

In an excerpt from her soon-to-be-released book, Hard Choices, Clinton states that a “regrettable amount of misinformation, speculation, and flat-out deceit by some in politics and the media” exists with respect to Benghazi. Going forward, it appears that she intends to occupy the moral high-ground when she writes: “I will not be a part of a political slugfest on the backs of dead Americans. It’s just plain wrong, and it’s unworthy of our great country. Those who insist on politicizing the tragedy will have to do so without me.”

Of course, 2012 was a different time. It was an election year. Some might suggest Clinton was guilty of “politicizing the tragedy” when she was the first to assert that the attack was predicated upon a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islamic Internet video. Is it possible that she was referring to her own actions when she referenced the “regrettable amount of misinformation, speculation, and flat-out deceit by some in politics”?

While Clinton ostensibly accepts responsibility for the associated loss of life, she quickly buffers that position by pointing to “the heartbreaking human stakes of every decision we make.” She also takes the liberty to blame the misinformation on our Intelligence community; suggesting that the video scenario was the best information they had at the time.

That explanation might be credible had Robert Lovell, a retired Brigadier General, not testified to the contrary before Congress. Ret. Brig. Gen. Lovell, who was serving as Deputy Director for Intelligence and Knowledge Development Directorate J-2 for AFRICOM at the time of the attack, testified, “what we did know quite early on was that this was a hostile action. This was no demonstration gone terribly awry.”

To protect its Presidential nominee in 2012, the Democratic Party had to bury the principle of “no one left behind” beneath a story line that remains as implausible today as it was then. However, with the Veterans Administration crisis hovering over President Obama’s head, it may have been time to trot the principle back out to demonstrate how committed his Administration is to every member of our military; besides, it’s another election year… and times change.

In his announcement of the “prisoner” exchange, President Obama even referred to the principle of “no one left behind” as an “ironclad promise.” One can only wonder why that was not the driving force behind his Administration’s reaction to the consulate attack on September 11, 2012.

Of course, the Republican Party, which has been championing every kind of investigation of Benghazi except a non-partisan one, now finds itself on the other side of the “no one left behind” argument. Where has the outrage of the Party been during the last five years when it comes to freeing Sgt. Bergdahl? Where is the conservative support of his return to the United States today other than from an obligatory perspective?

Instead, we are witnessing Republican indignation over the release of the five members of the Taliban who were required to make the exchange. After all, “we don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

While Sec. Hagel’s “prisoner of war” rhetoric may be dated, isn’t his theory somewhat correct? Aren’t we at war in Afghanistan? Wasn’t Sgt. Bergdahl stationed there as a member of our military? Must we always send a S.E.A.L. Team to attempt a dangerous rescue of Americans held in captivity to feel conservatively fulfilled?

If we did elect to pursue the latter course of action, the Republican Party might be further torn. Should it be delighted by the free market aspect of Hollywood’s inevitable portrayal of the mission, or should it be appalled by the blatant political exploitation it would inherently assign to any such movie that was produced while a Democratic served as President?

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (a Republican Member of the House and an Iraq and Afghanistan War veteran) raised other concerns on NBC’s Meet the Press. He said, “I’m going to celebrate him [Bergdahl] coming home, [but] the release of five mid- to high-level Taliban is shocking to me, especially not coming to Congress(referencing the Administration’s decision to execute the exchange without first informing appropriate Congressional committees as is required by law). You now are going to have five people on the ground targeting American troops, the Afghan troops and the Afghan people. There are a lot of questions that need to be asked.”

It is not the first time the Bush or Obama Administrations has released “enemy combatants” and some have returned to terrorist activities. While records are scarce and the exact numbers are difficult to corroborate, approximately 700 detainees have been brought to Guantanamo. Only about 150 remain. Do the math.

With respect to the issue of “notice:” Selectively choosing whether to comply with Federal law does not seem to be a barrier to this Administration. It has aggressively decided which laws it will and will not apply (including elements of the Constitution). It will be interesting to see if this latest disregard for the law is just a test. Perhaps the Obama Administration is just trying to empty Guantanamo since it has failed to deliver on its 2008 campaign promise to close it.

Then again, maybe the hawkish Republicans need not worry about terrorists returning to the battlefield. Given the President’s propensity to use drones, maybe the released detainees are merely new targets.

Doesn’t the American public have the right to demand some degree of continuity from the Parties other than their routine disagreement? Consistency seems to be almost as foreign a concept to our elected officials as is the Constitution.

In the meantime, let’s put our unwavering allegiance to the concept of “no one left behind” in perspective. The Joint POW/MIA Accounting is still looking for about 83,436 U.S. service members. While the vast majority are from World War II, 1,666 are attributable to Vietnam, 7,957 to Korea, and 126 to Cold War. We may need to restock Guantanamo.


A Civil Assessment has been designed to serve as an Op-Ed forum for you. You are invited to offer your opinion and to discuss your position in the Comment Section. Please be sure that your “assessments” remain “civil” so that they may earn the respect of others.


TJ O’Hara provides nonpartisan political commentary every Tuesday on The Daily Ledger, one of One America News Network’s featured shows (check local cable listings for the channel in your area or watch online at 8:00 PM and Midnight PM Eastern / 5:00 and 9:00 PM Pacific. His segment appears about 35 minutes into the program.

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TJ OHara
T.J. O'Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States. Along the way, he earned the first Presidential endorsement of the Whig Party since the 1850s, his website was archived by the Library of Congress for its historic significance, and he won the first on-line “virtual” Presidential election (conducted by We Want You) by a commanding 72.1% and 72.7% over Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, respectively. His column explores our Nation’s most pressing issues, challenges conventional thinking, and provides an open forum for civil discussion. Learn more about TJ at his website and connect with him on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter (@tjohara2012). To order his books, go to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords or Sony Reader.
  • disqus_k2Bii3DuEF

    This keeps getting better all the time , we want the truth , Americans have died because of these 5 …

    • Maria Lima

      To quote a very tired and overused movie phrase: ” we can’t handle the truth!!”

      • Thank you for your comment.

        Jack Nicholson’s famous quote (as Col. Jessup in “A few Good Men”) does seem apropos with regard to our elected officials’ belief when it comes to our ability to handle the truth. However, if it makes anyone feel any better, our politicians also do not trust each other. Otherwise, why would the Obama Administration deemed it appropriate to ignore the Federal law that requires a minimum of 30 days notice be given to certain Congressional committees with regard to any proposal to release any Guantanamo detainee?

        Ironically, this is the same Administration that mistakenly released the name of our Nation’s highest-ranking CIA officer in Afghanistan just a few days before. I suppose an argument can be made that no one should be entrusted with having common sense or operating with integrity in Washington, D.C. :o(

    • Thank you for your comment. The “truth” would be an excellent starting point; not only with regard to the Bergdahl scenario but with respect to all of our Nation’s issues. It’s interesting that our elected officials expect us to trust them, but they cannot seem to bring themselves to trust us.

  • Eric N Keya Erickson

    The various stories about Sgt. Bergdahl’s disappearance all have problems. The idea that someone could simply walk off post seems ridiculous. I have been to bases in combat zones and can tell you that getting on and off are not easy tasks. There are barriers everywhere and soldiers watching for attack at regular intervals. How could someone wander away without anyone noticing? Getting separated while on patrol is much more plausible, whether intentional or not. The whole thing is far more complicated than it needs to be, which leads me to believe that there is a cover up of some kind, just as with Benghazi. The truth is usually very simple. Only lies require the level of complexity that our politicians seem to find necessary.

    On a side note, I’m somewhat offended (though not surprised) at all the emphasis on the fact that Bergdahl was home schooled. Somehow that seems to explain away all of the possible craziness existent in his character. I suppose that’s just another case of politicians trying to minoritize people to pit them against one another. Am I buying into that by being somewhat offended at the characterization of a “minority” to which I belong? :o)

    • Thank you for your comment, Mr. Erickson.

      Nothing about this situation seems to be conventional. The fact pattern surrounding Sgt. Bergdahl’s capture (i.e., the assertions of desertion coupled with promotions in rank; the arguments for and against this specific application of “no one left behind” policy versus the same with regard to the attacks in Benghazi; etc.). It will be interesting to observe how the partisan narratives play out as the facts unfold.

      As for the “home school” aspect of the case, I think that element is clearly irrelevant. Anyone who would suggest that someone is more likely to be mentally unstable if they were home schooled either doesn’t know very many people who have been home schooled or should be branded an “educationist.” Note: While this is a new application of the word “educationist,” since so many people are inclined to brand people as racists, sexists, etc., I thought the English language was in need of a new pejorative application of the term. :o)

      Thanks again for your comment.

      • Eric N Keya Erickson

        I half expect the Democrats to push him as a big hero, regardless of what the facts are, much as Republicans did with Jessica Lynch. I heard many soldiers disparage her actual contributions (or lack thereof) to the war, and especially the label of “hero” that has been applied to her. Meanwhile, the Republicans (the “party of Defense”) will be calling for charges to be brought against him. We could swap the parties’ roles, keep everything else the same, and there would be little difference.

        I meet many “educationists.” Some are elitists who see home schooling families as ignorant rubes trying to cram the bible down their children’s throats, while most have had public schooling so ingrained in their psyche that they can’t understand how someone can not go to public school and still come out “normal.” While most of these people are easy to ignore, sometimes their ignorance and bias is so offensive that they themselves must be “schooled.” :o)

        • Thank you for your comment, Mr. Erickson … and for occasionally “schooling” the “educationists” who are in need of it.

          As you have observed, the tactics of the Parties are predictable even with regard to the logical inconsistency with which they are applied. As I said on a television show I did yesterday, there are three things upon which you can rely:

          (1) The Parties will find a way to solve the wrong problem;
          (2) They will default to a partisan-biased solution; and
          (3) They will only consider the consequences of their “solution” within the context of a single election cycle.

          The People deserve better. I hope you have an opportunity to see the television segment I posted on my Facebook page last evening (at FB “ohara2012”). It offers the only viable way to shift the Party paradigm.

          Thank you again for your comment.

  • Conservative_Utopia

    So if a private is worth five of our highest-value targets, trading for a general would just about empty Gitmo, yes? Hey, an AMBASSADOR carries the equivalence of a general. Good thing ambassadors never get captured. This whole wretched mess from Extortion 17 to Benghazi to Bergdahl reeks of treason.

    • Thank you for your comment.

      Treason is a very specific charge, and I am not certain to whom you are attempting to have it apply.

      As for the promotions, here’s an additional wrinkle: Had Sgt. Bergdahl remained in captivity a little longer, he might have been further promoted to Master Sergeant (his promotion would have come up in June). Suddenly, General Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is implying that there may be an investigation of whether charges will be brought against Sgt. Bergdahl because of the possible set of circumstances that surrounded his disappearance and capture. Interesting!

      Thank you again for your comment.

  • guest

    Minor observation but I think it’s interesting…… If our government believed he was captured, why would they promote him twice during his captivity?! Wouldn’t that just make him more valuable to the terrorists and increase their “bargaining” power?

    • Thank you for your comment.

      Your point is not minor and was noted in the eleventh paragraph:

      “There are those who argue that Bergdahl was a deserter. That might explain why no attempt was made to extract him from his Haqqani captors. But it is difficult to reconcile two promotions in rank with someone who was believed to have been a deserter.”

      Thanks for highlighting the incongruity.

  • Lisa

    While I generally agree that both parties are showing inconsistencies here, others that I have read state that there HAD been attempts to find and rescue Bergdahl, which resulted in loss of life. No, it wasn’t a SEAL team, but the premise that no attempt had been made already to get him back does seem flawed. My understanding (which could be flawed of course) is that part of the reason people are upset, or at least those in uniform, is that this trade could have prevented those losses if done earlier. Agreeing to it now seems to be putting politics above the lives of soldiers. Which I’m afraid happens all too often.

    • Thank you for your comment, Lisa.

      The losses of life (and there were six) that were incurred in search of then-PFC Bergdahl occurred in August and September of 2009 (a few months after he was captured). It is not an unusual practice for the military to attempt to locate a captured member of the armed forces. However, these efforts were not the equivalent of a planned extraction (as might be expected of a S.E.A.L. team).

      As for negotiations, the current deal was not on the table until 2011 (two years later). As the article references, prior to that, “The Haqqani network originally demanded the release of 21 Afghan prisoners along with Aafia Siddiqui and $1 million.”

      The real question becomes: Why did it take an addition three years to negotiate Qatar’s promise not to allow the five released detainees to leave the country for a one year period? If that doesn’t sound odd, it should.

      Thank you again for your comment.

  • Cindy Anderson

    As a disabled veteran I would rather die than to aid the enemy….which is what the president did when he released the five terrorist detainees. Neither those five or the solider in question was a prisoner. They are five enemy combatants and one confused sad case deserter. If I was still Military police I would have taken my own life than to see terrorist released on my behalf. How can this young man claim to be an American soldier ? Death before dishonor was my charge…this kid makes me sick.

    • Thank you for your comment, Ms. Anderson, but even more importantly, thank you for your service.

      I deeply admire your commitment and certainly understand your position. However, one of the rights you have defended is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Sgt. Bergdahl is entitled to that presumption until such time that he is proven guilty.

      This is a troublesome case because there are so many conflicting accounts. Even the behavior of the military must come into question (i.e., the two promotions he received while being held captive).

      As a former litigating attorney, I can assure you that if he is prosecuted by a military tribunal, every effort will be made to establish the facts that will decide his guilt or innocence. While it is tempting to try him in the media, our responsibility is to leave that judgment to the courts.

      Thank you again for your comment and your service.

      • bustalib

        I have always taken the position “listen to those with boots on the ground”. Forget about all the BS at the top and the political wrangling, Bergdahl’s platoon leaders and members have risked backlash from some powerful forces to speak the truth. I believe them. The rest is all a smoke screen. The promotions were a smoke screen. It’s all a staged political event and the usual suspects are in play. But, the truth will come out although probably too late to have any affect on the upcoming mid terms and even too late for 2016. In the end, POTUS Burach Obama will be seen as the worst and weakest, yet most cunning Prez In US history.

  • Russ Leak

    Unfortunately our media (and as a consequence, the politics played out before it) has become incredibly sensationalized due to the increasing amount of coverage that exists and expands throughout the world. Advertising revenue and increasing campaign budgets are forcing more and more polarization of both the citizenry and the politicians that represent them. As such, the groups that develop are forced to make decisions and take action in such ways that work to gain more political favor rather than cooperate. “Watch dog” politics if you will.

    No matter what the issue, Republicans will disagree with Democrats and criticize the decisions made by them, and the Democrats disagree with THAT criticism, and the real facts and issues are buried underneath petty “he said/ she said” verbiage. All the while, stations like Fox News and CNN/ MSNBC continue to prod the issues further into the fire and manipulate the facts to stoke the fires of partisanship to gain profit.

    No matter what happens, someone NEEDS to stand up and put a halt on this deliberate process of misinformation and partisan dissention before we drop the ball on the truly important part of these incidences: the facts.

    I appreciate this article because it fairly and objectively looked at both sides of the issue without bending one way or another to a side of the political spectrum. Thank you.

    • Thank you for your kind words and comment, Mr. Leaks.

      You have done an excellent job of summarizing the challenge posed by the dissemination of information by today’s more traditional media outlets. Factual evidence is too often presented in a one dimensional and biased way.

      Facts, in and of themselves, are devoid of partisan influence. They simply exist. Perhaps if we would all learn to embrace them in an politically agnostic way, the quagmire in which we are buried at the Federal, Sate and local levels of government might be begin to dissipate.

      It is the purpose of this column, “A Civil Assessment,” to provide a forum in which all sides of an issue may be explored with an emphasis on a respectful and factual discussion. Thank you for participating in that way.

  • Zork

    Well, if one thing is clear, it’s that Hussein Obama is a delusional marxist.

    • The title of this column is “A Civil Assessment.” Its Comment Section is a forum for the civil exchange of opinions based on facts and the demonstration of respect for the differing opinions of others.

      While I respect your right to describe the President as you choose, it doesn’t exactly provide the basis for a discussion. There are thousands of other forums in which name-calling is sufficient. This isn’t one of them.

      If you would like to back up your assessment of the President within the context of the subject matter of this article, you are welcome to do so. If not, you may wish to vent your frustration with the President elsewhere.