Should we have traded five Taliban prisoners for one U.S. prisoner of war? It is amazing that we are even asking this question.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is rarely accused of being soft on terrorism, negotiated with Hamas and traded more than 1,000 prisoners, many of whom with blood on their hands, for Gilad Shalit, whose conduct prior to his capture was not exactly heroic.
These are painful decisions, but countries like the U.S. and Israel do not leave their soldiers behind, and certainly not run a character and fitness test before deciding whom to rescue. General Dempsey was right when he said about Sergeant Bergdahl, “Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty.”
More after the jump.
When we end wars, we trade for prisoners. Can you imagine the reaction if President Obama had refused to make this trade and Bergdahl had died or disappeared? Would our Republican friends have accepted “we let him die because we had questions about how he was captured” as an excuse?
The five Taliban prisoners would have been released in a few months anyway, so we really did not give up anything.
Also, these released prisoners will be monitored, and their movement will be restricted. Former Bush administration official John Bellinger noted that the “Administration appears to have reached a defensible, hold-your-nose compromise by arranging, in exchange for the release of Sergeant Bergdahl, for the individuals to be held in Qatar for a year before they return to Afghanistan.”
But was it legal for President Obama to make this trade? The National Security Council spokesman, Caitlin Hayden, provided a convincing answer:
[T]he Secretary of Defense may transfer an individual detained at Guantanamo to a foreign country if the Secretary determines (1) that actions have or will be taken that substantially mitigate the risk that the individual will engage in activity that threatens the United States or U.S. persons or interests and (2) that the transfer is in the national security interest of the United States. The Secretary made those determinations.
In The New York Times, David Brooks wrote that “the president’s instincts were right. His sense of responsibility for a fellow countryman was correct. It’s not about one person; it’s about the principle of all-for-one-and-one-for-all, which is the basis of citizenship.”
So what really is behind the Bergdahl controversy? Obama ended two wars without being blamed for surrender, and that does not sit well with our Republican friends. In The Dish, Andrew Sullivan explained it perfectly:
What the Bergdahl deal does is give the right a mini-gasm in which to vent all their emotions about the wars they once backed and to channel them into their pre-existing template of the traitor/deserter/Muslim/impostor presidency of Barack Hussein Obama. This venting has been a long time coming, it springs from all the frustrations of losing wars, and it can have pure expression against a soldier with a hippie dad and a president they despise. It’s a bonanza of McCarthyite “stab-in-the-back” paranoia and culture war aggression. They don’t have to vent against Cheney, the true architect of the defeats, because now they have a cause celebre to pursue Obama over.They also get to avoid the messy awful reality that Cheney bequeathed us: an illegal internment/torture camp with 149 prisoners with no possibility of justice or release. Permanent detention and brutal torture of prisoners are not issues to the right. They invariably refuse to acknowledge the extraordinary cost of Gitmo to the moral standing of the US or its increasingly tenuous claim to be a vanguard of Western values. Instead, they wallow in terror of the inmates — being so scared of them that they cannot even tolerate them on American soil — and impugn the very integrity and patriotism of a twice-elected president when he tries to untie the knot Bush left him.
They have no constructive solution to this problem, of course. They have no constructive solution to anything else either — whether it be climate change, healthcare or immigration. But they know one thing: how to foment and channel free-floating rage at an impostor/deserter president for inheriting the national security disaster they created. This they know how to do. This is increasingly all they know how to do.
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