June 2 2014

Sgt. Bergdahl: First Step to Emptying Gitmo?

Charlotte Hays

There is an aspect of the controversy surrounding the exchange of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban prisoners that is thus far being overlooked. But that could change. 

I was glad when Josh Rogin broached it in the decidedly not conservative Daily Beast. The subhead to the story explains:

Now that President Obama has proven Congress can’t stop him from releasing terrorists, the administration could be primed to empty out the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

There are 149 prisoners remaining at Guantanamo Bay, according to the article, and Congress may not be able to stop their release. An unidentified Republican aide is quoted:

“This whole deal may have been a test to see how far the administration can actually push it, and if Congress doesn’t fight back they will feel more empowered to move forward with additional transfers,” said one senior GOP senate aide close to the issue.

“They’ve lined up all the dominoes to be able to move a lot more detainees out of Guantanamo and this could be just the beginning.”

So it may be that the administration used the trade of Sgt. Berdahl to further a goal even closer to the president’s heart: emptying and closing Gitmo.

As is often the case when President Obama wants what he wants, the law was not obeyed.

Congress must be notified thirty days in advance before anyone is released from Guantanamo. That is the law.

The Obama administration has said that obeying the law in this case was simply not feasible. Here’s a novel idea: if something can’t be done legally, it should not be done. Ronald Reagan bent the law to try to free hostages in Lebanon and lived to regret it. Democrats “crucified” Reagan, but I doubt they will be as exercised about President Obama’s illegal swap as they were about the Iran Contra fiasco.

Critics of this trade start off in a bind: Who is not glad that Sgt. Bergdahl is coming home after five years of captivity? But even with the legality problem shoved to the side, Americans have a right to ask: Is this the best deal the administration could have negotiated?

If I were a cynic, I’d be saying that the only swap the White House might have regarded as an even better deal is Sgt. Bergdahl for ten Taliban. That would have put the administration five closer to its goal of emptying Guantanamo Bay, but that that might have been going too far for the public.

The Obama administration’s lawlessness on this is disheartening. But you have to recognize their cleverness: if you raise questions, you might be accused of wanting to leave American soldiers behind on foreign soil.

Another wrinkle: There have been questions raised about whether Sgt. Bergdahl was a POW or a deserter. (I can’t help being glad that this story seems to have originated at CNN, like the Daily Beast not a conservative outlet.) Let us hope that this matter will be resolved in the light of scrutiny. Sgt. Bergdahl deserves a warm welcome home if he was a POW. But only if he really was a loyal soldier.

Nathan Bradley Bethea, who served with Bergdahl in Afghanistan, regards him as a deserter who allegedly walked off in the dead of night and allegedly cost other U.S. soldiers their lives.

I believe that Bergdahl ... deserves sympathy, but he has much to answer for, some of which is far more damning than simply having walked off. Many have suffered because of his actions: his fellow soldiers, their families, his family, the Afghan military, the unaffiliated Afghan civilians in Paktika, and none of this suffering was inevitable. None of it had to happen.

Therefore, while I’m pleased that he’s safe, I believe there is an explanation due. Reprimanding him might yield horrible press for the Army, making our longest war even less popular than it is today. Retrieving him at least reminds soldiers that we will never abandon them to their fates, right or wrong. In light of the propaganda value, I do not expect the Department of Defense to punish Bergdahl.

 The Mullah Omar is hailing the trade as a “great victory.” I daresay the mullah is being modest. (National Review has good comments on this.)

Clap your hands if you believe that Qatar will expend resources to keep these five Taliban members from returning to battle, as was stipulated in the agreement?

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