WASHINGTON, June 1, 2014 — For groups like al-Qaeda and Boko Haram, yesterday’s release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is manna from heaven.
The message Washington sent to international militant organizations yesterday is that despite repeated statements that the United States does not negotiate with terrorists, in reality, there are deals to be made.
While every American celebrates the return of one of our own, there are dark questions regarding the decision by the White House to swap Sgt. Bergdahl for five Taliban terrorists.
House Armed Services Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., and Senate Armed Services Ranking Member James Inhofe, R-Okla., issued a joint statement yesterday questioning the decision.
“Trading five senior Taliban leaders from detention in Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl’s release may have consequences for the rest of our forces and all Americans. Our terrorist adversaries now have a strong incentive to capture Americans. That incentive will put our forces in Afghanistan and around the world at even greater risk.”
“In executing this transfer, the President also clearly violated laws which require him to notify Congress thirty days before any transfer of terrorists from Guantanamo Bay and to explain how the threat posed by such terrorists has been substantially mitigated. Our joy at Sergeant Bergdahl’s release is tempered by the fact that President Obama chose to ignore the law, not to mention sound policy, to achieve it.”
The Obama Administration defended the move, saying, “Due to a near-term opportunity to save Sergeant Bergdahl’s life, we moved as quickly as possible. The administration determined that given these unique and exigent circumstances, such a transfer should go forward notwithstanding the notice requirement.”
President Obama further stated that Qatar assured him that it will “put in place measures to protect our national security.”
The Administration also stated that the release was consistent with the Administration’s plan to close the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the Taliban prisoners were held.
The five Taliban prisoners released in exchange for Bergdahl are all war-hardened members of the Taliban.
Mohammad Fazl was the Minister of Defense under the Taliban government and a top military commander. Wikileaks published Department of Defense reporting showing that Fazl was a close associate of Taliban Commander Mullah Omar. He is wanted by the UN for possible war crimes including the murder of thousands of Shiites. A U.S. assessment of Fazl describes him as a high security risk, “as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests, and allies” if released.
Mullah Norullah Noori is a Taliban military leader. He is also wanted by the UN for possible war crimes. Like Fazl, Noori is rated a high threat to U.S. security interests. He has ties to several militant Islamist groups, including al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin.
Mohammed Nabi is a senior Taliban official with ties to al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, and Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin. Wikileaks documents show that at one time he was a CIA informant. He was involved in attacks against U.S. and coalition forces. Nabi also assisted in establishing smuggling routes for the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Khairullah Khairkhwa was a close associate of Osama bin Laden and a senior Taliban leader. He actively sought support from Iran for attacks against U.S. coalition forces. He is deemed a high security threat if released.
Abdul Haq Wasiq was the Taliban’s deputy minister of intelligence. Wikileaks documents from the Department of Defense label him as “central to the Taliban’s efforts to form alliances with other Islamic fundamentalist groups” to fight against U.S. and coalition forces.
The immediate threat to American’s throughout the world is that releasing hardened Taliban militants for Sgt. Berghdal could encourage more kidnappings.
Islamists have long lobbied for the United States to release Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, “the blind Sheik,” and they may now see an opportunity to win his freedom.
Although the United States has consistently refused to consider Omar’s release, militants are likely to translate the deal for Bergdahl as an indication that Washington could deal, if militants can identify the right victims.
Democracies do negotiate with terrorists, despite repeated statements they do not. The UK, Spain and even Israel have quietly negotiated to win the release of hostages.
However, negotiating with terrorists does set a dangerous precedent.
There are also chilling implications for those American’s currently held by terrorists.
If the U.S. refuses to negotiate the release of other American’s held by militants, those groups could get frustrated and take extreme actions to demonstrate their resolve.
American Warren Weinstein was kidnapped in Pakistan by al-Qaeda on August 13, 2011. Weinstein, of Rockville, Maryland, is 72 years old and was the director of J.E. Austin Associates when he was kidnapped.
Last December, Al Qaeda provided a proof of life video of Weinstein, showing he was still alive.
In exchange for Weinstein’s release, al-Qaeda wants an end to U.S. airstrikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen. The terrorists also want the release of several al-Qaeda and Taliban members in custody.
The U.S. has so far refused to negotiate with terrorists.