A central element of the administration's legal hair-splitting in justifying the Taliban Five trade relies on clinging to the conceit that Bergdahl was exchanged as part of a relatively routine prisoner swap. By describing him as a prisoner of war, rather than a hostage, the White House seeks to frame Bergdahl as merely one half of a deal, the likes of which is hardly unprecedented in US history. The problems with that narrative are obvious: (1) The Pentagon pointedly refused to categorize him as a POW, (2) the Taliban (in practice) and Haqqani network (according to our government's formal designation) are terrorists, and (3) the US does not treat Gitmo detainees as traditional POWs. Nevertheless, White House officials have doggedly insisted that Bergdahl was a prisoner, not a hostage -- a distinction belied by this report:
A military intelligence source also confirmed to Fox News that a second option -- involving the payment of a cash ransom for Bergdahl's freedom -- was pursued as late as December 2013. The source said the goal was to reach out to Pakistan leadership with direct ties to the Taliban, and float the possibility of trading cash, instead of prisoners, for Bergdahl. That option, though, was put "on hold" in December when it was made clear the administration intended to pursue a prisoner swap.
Ransoms are paid in exchange for hostages, not "prisoners." Our asymmetrical, non-state enemy held -- and perhaps co-opted -- Bergdahl for years, and demanded a price for his release. Those are the actions of hostage-takers, plain and simple. (As an aside, didn't the White House take a hard line against negotiating with Republican "hostage takers" in budget disputes?) In any case, as recently as December, the administration was weighing whether to fork over cash to secure his freedom, as opposed to serving up five dangerous jihadi commanders. As it happens, though, Team Obama was separately interested in emptying Guantanamo and had been looking to cut this group loose long before Bergdahl abandoned his unit. In their estimation, they were getting a win-win: The triumphant return of a "POW," and a fast-tracked method of shutting down Gitmo. They've been gobsmacked by the public's lose-lose response, fueled by the understandable fears about the Taliban Five and the disturbing revelations about Bergdahl. The same Fox News report echoes yesterday's Time story, revealing that Obama short-circuited the deliberation process over this deal, cutting large pieces of the military and intelligence communities out of the loop:
The Obama administration largely bypassed the intelligence community to green-light the risky swap of five Taliban leaders for American Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, officials tell Fox News, as new details emerge about concerns with the deal at the highest levels of President Obama's team...Intelligence officials confirmed to Fox News that the Bergdahl prisoner swap was then on an accelerated track, and no formal assessment of the entire intelligence community was conducted. This made the opportunity to push back against the transfer extremely limited.
Our intelligence folks had been adamantly opposed to freeing these five, all of whom were assessed as high-level threats. A defense official put it rather bluntly:
The reason senior DOD officials opposed the trade is this-- one says it is “like handing over 5 4-star generals of the Taliban.”— Jim Angle (@JimAngleFox) June 4, 2014
We also know that Congress was not sufficiently consulted, in violation of the law. The White House laughably chalked this up to an "oversight," but their true motives are obvious. Such was the culture of secrecy around this whole situation that members of Bergdahl's platoon were made to sign non-disclosure agreements, with at least one soldier alleging that they were pressured to lie about the nature of Bergdahl's capture. Parents of a soldier slain while searching for Bergdahl have also stepped forward to say they were misled by the government, and a high-ranking Senator on the intelligence committee told Megyn Kelly last night that he never knew about Bergdahl's apparent desertion letter until its existence was reported by the New York Times and Fox. Lots of shady details. Speaking of which, one of the White House's explanations is that they had to rush this process through because they obtained a video of Bergdahl indicating that he was terribly ill, fostering a race-against-the-clock sense of urgency. The problem? They apparently received that clip in January, but didn't strike the deal for months. And here's the video of Bergdahl being handed over to US special forces. Appearances aren't everything, but he doesn't look like he's on death's door. He's not even particularly gaunt and effortlessly walks under his own power:
So scorching hot is this potato that Senate Democrats -- with notable exceptions -- have sprinted away from the Bergdahl story, with Team Clinton deciding to clarify that come to think of it, Hillary did have major reservations about the plan after all. Good to know. Meanwhile, additional Bergdahl
platoon mates vicious swiftboaters are taking to the airwaves to denounce him as a deserter spread their filthy anti-Obama lies, as MSNBC does its thing.
Parting thought: We know how "smart power" is going vis-a-vis Russia and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. How is Obama's foreign policy faring in Syria and Iran, with whom we've entered into high-profile agreements in recent months? We're in the very best of hands.
UPDATE - Since the initial subject of this post is ransom payments, Brad Thor asks some interesting questions about the Haqqani network's skin in this game. Aside from getting back one affiliated terrorist, what did they really get in this deal, in which they gave up perhaps their most valuable chit? Hmmm.