As a candidate in 2008, Barack Obama took exception to comments made by then President George W. Bush during a foreign policy speech. Bush announced that “some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along.” Obama took the comments personally and released this statement in response:
It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 6Oth anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack. It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel. Instead of tough talk and no action, we need to do what Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan did and use all elements of American power — including tough, principled, and direct diplomacy – to pressure countries like Iran and Syria. George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the President’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.
With the recent announcement that U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdhal has been released by the Taliban in exchange for 5 “high-risk” terrorists, engaging with terrorists has become a reality.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) has stated that the administration flat-out “negotiated with terrorists,” a tactic that marks a “fundamental shift in U.S. policy.”
And by shift, he means unlawful.
Via the Washington Post:
Amid jubilation Saturday over the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from captivity by the Taliban, senior Republicans on Capitol Hill said they were troubled by the means by which it was accomplished, which was a deal to release five Afghan detainees from the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Top Republicans on the Senate and House armed services committees went so far as to accuse President Obama of having broken the law, which requires the administration to notify Congress before any transfers from Guantanamo are carried out.
“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,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. McKeon (R-Calif.) and the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, James M. Inhofe (Okla.), said in a joint statement.
Lawmakers were not notified of the Guantanamo detainees’ transfer until after it occurred.
The law requires the defense secretary to notify relevant congressional committees at least 30 days before making any transfers of prisoners, to explain the reason and to provide assurances that those released would not be in a position to reengage in activities that could threaten the United States or its interests.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel claimed that the reason for circumventing Congress was that Bergdhal’s life was in danger. Bergdhal had been in captivity for five years, but just yesterday his life was in such imminent danger that the administration had to negotiate with terrorists in an unlawful manner?
As troubling as this may seem, this isn’t the first time the Obama administration has shifted away from candidate Obama’s pledge to not negotiate with terrorists. In 2012, the Washington Post reported that the U.S. had been “secretly releasing captured Taliban fighters from a detention center in Afghanistan in a bid to strengthen its hand in peace talks with the insurgent group.”
Why were they doing that? Not to get Bergdhal back on American soil. It was designed to give the U.S. a bargaining chip in areas we struggled to control in Afghanistan. The only thing we were given in return was a “promise to give up violence .”
At least this time we were given Bergdhal in return. But at what cost?
The five Taliban members released to Qatar are described simply by the Daily Beast as “bad guys.”
According to a 2008 Pentagon dossier on Guantanamo Bay inmates, all five men released were considered to be a high risk to launch attacks against the United States and its allies if they were liberated. The exchange shows that the Obama administration was willing to pay a steep price, indeed, for Bergdahl’s freedom. The administration says they will be transferred to Qatar, which played a key role in the negotiations.
In the initial statements released about the deal, the White House declined to name the detainees who would be leaving the Cuba based prison Obama has been trying to close since his first day in office.
A senior U.S. defense official confirmed Saturday that the prisoners to be released include Mullah Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Abdul Haq Wasiq, Khairullah Khairkhwa and Mohammed Nabi Omari.
While not as well known as Guantanamo inmates like 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Taliban 5 were some of the worst outlaws in the U.S. war on terror. And their release will end up replenishing the diminished leadership ranks of the Afghan Taliban at a moment when the United States is winding down the war there.
“They are undoubtedly among the most dangerous Taliban commanders held at Guantanamo,” said Thomas Joscelyn, a senior editor at the Long War Journal who keeps a close watch on developments concerning the detainees left at the Guantanamo Bay prison.
In 2004, Condoleezza Rice said that President Bush would not negotiate with hostage-takers in Iraq. In a definitive response she said, “The president of the United States does not negotiate with terrorists.”
That is no longer American policy.
Cross-posted at the Mental Recession