Why Did the Bowe Bergdahl Swap Take Place? (Updated)

by Dave Schuler on June 8, 2014

That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m asking the question because I want to know the answer. A lot of different answers have been floating around. Here are some:

  1. Just what the White House has been saying. They’d been negotiating for some time and recently became alarmed at what appeared to be the declining state of Bergdahl’s health. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
  2. Ditto with the addition of our pending withdrawal from Afghanistan.
  3. Barack Obama promised to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo when he ran for president the first time and he’s still trying to fulfill that promise. Exchanging the five Taliban for Bergdahl is a backdoor way of getting around Congress’s lack of cooperation.
  4. It’s part of a larger negotiation to bring the Taliban into the political process in Afghanistan.
  5. The president is a crypto-Muslim and Bergdahl presented a pretext for releasing the Taliban.
  6. The president wanted something to distract people from the VA (or other) scandal.

I lean towards #1. I think that #5 is a scurrilous and outrageous charge.

What do you think?

Update

I’ve added a sixth speculation. I’d intended to include that but it slipped my mind when I was drafting the post.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

michael reynolds June 8, 2014 at 11:25 am

1 and 2.

We’re leaving Afghanistan which means we’d be required sooner or later to return Taliban POWs. At the end of a war the POWs go home. We got something (Bergdahl) in exchange for something we were stuck doing anyway – releasing these 5 Taliban. And the Haqqanis got what they wanted – a semblance of profit.

... June 8, 2014 at 12:53 pm

#4

#1 is just bonus/cover

steve June 8, 2014 at 1:44 pm

1, 2 and maybe 4. They know there is a timetable. I am sure they wanted him out before we left. I think 4 is mostly a wish. Why should the Taliban negotiate? They have waited 13 years. They can wait another one or two until we leave. 3 makes the least sense. It only gets five out and then there is no one left to trade for the rest.

Steve

Dave Schuler June 8, 2014 at 2:33 pm

It only gets five out and then there is no one left to trade for the rest.

The rationale behind that appears to be that the five were among those hardest to justify releasing. There are 149 still there. About half of those are already scheduled for release as soon as arrangements can be made with a host country.

That leaves about 75. The five come from that group.

jan June 8, 2014 at 2:39 pm

#1 seems to be refuted even by high ranking people in the Senate Intelligence Committee, such as Diane Feinstein, who have said there is little to no evidence supporting the claim that Bergdahl’s declining health was putting him at risk. This puts a chink into such claims, putting the action into more of a knee-jerk unilateral, WH negotiation, in obtaining his release.

#2 is a position pushed by the president. However, it’s not one that’s necessarily congruent with those who want to safeguard the costly gains made in Afghanistan the last 10 plus yeas.

#3 has some merit, in that getting rid of the 5 most contentious members of Gitmo — ones who a bipartisan Congress solidly refused earlier — would create less furor in eventually dismantling the entire prison, quietly sending the rest home without fanfare.

#4 also fits into the president’s overall foreign foreign policy stances, which wistfully felt that good faith bargaining with the moderates of your enemy would create good will, and aid in his ongoing negotiation efforts with them. However, Taliban leaders have come out and said this exchange would do nothing to help in any negotiation process with the U.S.

#5 presents a worst-case-scenario having no merit at the present. However, I also think WH operatives/spokespeople, who are now demeaning the credibility of those men serving with him, and now speaking out, affirming Bergdahl’s desertion/defection, are reprehensible as well.

“We’re leaving Afghanistan which means we’d be required sooner or later to return Taliban POWs. At the end of a war the POWs go home.”

This so-called “War on Terror” has never formally ended. placing these ongoing enemy combatants into an entirely different category than POWs’. Bergdahl himself was not officially a POW either. It was well documented from the beginning that he left his post, rather than being taken involuntarily from the battlefield, resulting in Bergdahl’s status being that of a hostage, until he could directly be questioned.

Furthermore, if OBL had been captured alive and incarcerated in Gitmo, would his release have also been justified as being just part of the military protocol involved in “leaving Afghanistan?” My understanding is that the five men exchanged for Bergdahl are the most dangerous of all imprisoned in Gitmo. Two are wanted by the UN for war crimes involving killing thousands of women and children. The others are all high ranking leaders Four of the five are predicted to go back into their former leadership roles, more exalted than before because of their Gitmo captivity.

Consequently, if so much was made of killing OBL by this administration, saying the Taliban had suffered a major blow to their organization because such a crucial terrorist figure was taken out of the picture, why then is so little being made of these equally malevolent leaders being returned to the Qatar for a year, and then released back into their former lives and activities?

Dave Schuler June 8, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Something of which people do not appear to be aware is that we are not now and never have been at war with Afghanistan. We are at war with “Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups of international reach”. I’d be interesting in seeing an argument that hostilities in that war have ended or are about to end.

To return to the tired World War II analogy, when the campaigns in the Sicilian or North African theaters had ended we didn’t release the prisoners taken there. That waited until well after the conclusion of the peace

Zachriel June 8, 2014 at 3:02 pm

jan: Furthermore, if OBL had been captured alive and incarcerated in Gitmo, would his release have also been justified as being just part of the military protocol involved in “leaving Afghanistan?”

He should have been charged with war crimes, along with others who committed war crimes.

... June 8, 2014 at 3:16 pm

#6 is just SOP for any public figure with PR problems. It may have influenced how they rolled this out, but they’ve been working on this trade/release for years.

... June 8, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Zachriel, there was a good case for charging these guys with war crimes, too. The Administration chose not to do so.

Andy June 8, 2014 at 5:18 pm

I think your question is really why did the swap take place now.

How about a number 6: That was the best deal we could get and the chance of improving our position in the future was low.

PD Shaw June 8, 2014 at 5:33 pm

I think there are two related questions: Why did the swap take place and why didn’t the Administration notify Congress? If it was just the first question, the answer would simply be that securing the release of American hostages/p.o.w.s is a regular part of the responsibilities of the military.

Not informing Congress, lends itself to excuses and justifications that are more complicated. They seem to keep changing. How about one: they are tired and impatient in dealing with the Congress, as well as Defense and Intelligence.

michael reynolds June 8, 2014 at 6:12 pm

I’d be interested in seeing an argument that hostilities in that war have ended or are about to end.

That’s jesuitical but I don’t think it’ll carry any weight. We knocked off the sitting government of Afghanistan and stuck another one in its place. You can call a horse a duck but you don’t want it served with orange sauce.

steve June 8, 2014 at 7:06 pm

“Consequently, if so much was made of killing OBL by this administration, saying the Taliban had suffered a major blow to their organization ”

This illustrates one of the problems we face. The Taliban and al Qaeda are not the same. AQ is a recognized terrorist group. The Taliban was the ruling political party in Afghanistan.

“when the campaigns in the Sicilian or North African theaters had ended we didn’t release the prisoners taken there. That waited until well after the conclusion of the peace”

But release them we did.

Steve

Zachriel June 8, 2014 at 7:50 pm

: Zachriel, there was a good case for charging these guys with war crimes, too. The Administration chose not to do so.

There was a huge political push back to trying the detainees in civilian courts. Some have been tried by military commission, but any trial is problematic due to prisoner abuse, and many charges have been dropped.

The released detainees to not represent an extraordinary threat. There are many others who would do the same or worse.

Cstanley June 9, 2014 at 6:20 am

There’s also the rumor being floated that the prisoner exchange was political coverage for what was really a hostage ransom (cash payment.) That seems pretty scurrilous too, and I appreciate the irony that Oliver North was advancing this theory.

... June 9, 2014 at 9:46 am

Zachriel, the pictures of the guy proudly posing with a bunch of severed heads, and what led to that picture, had nothing to do with treatment of prisoners at Gitmo.

jan June 9, 2014 at 10:30 am

Maybe the idea of a hostage ransom was not so “scurrilous” after all. Supposedly, the Haqqani network only trades hostages for cash. Perhaps, it was a two prong transaction: first money was paid to release Bergdahl from the Haqqanis, causing a temporary hand- over to the Taliban to occur, where the 5 Gitmo leaders became the next leg of the journey to finally free Bergdahl to the US.

A senior intelligence official with intimate knowledge of the years-long effort to locate and rescue Bergdahl told the Washington Free Beacon that the details of that exchange do not add up.

The official, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press, speculated that a cash ransom was paid to the Haqqani Network to get the group to free the prisoner.

The Obama administration reportedly considered offering cash for his release as late as December 2013. The State Department has repeatedly refused to say whether the deal that released Bergdahl involved any cash payment.

The ransom plan was reportedly abandoned, but the intelligence official insisted that there is reason to believe that cash changed hands as part of the deal.

As for Dave’s 6th option — whether or not it was deliberately done to take the heat off the VA problems, Bergdahl’s controversial release did indeed change the headlines.

jan June 9, 2014 at 11:44 am
steve June 9, 2014 at 5:51 pm

jan- My anonymous sources say everyone loves Obama.

Steve

jan June 9, 2014 at 9:51 pm

Steve,

I’m beginning to think that dem brains become glued to their candidates, no matter how bad they become. Consequently, it doesn’t surprise me at all that your “anonymous sources” continue their Obama addiction. There were partisans in the Bush era that suffered the same denial syndrome.

jan June 9, 2014 at 10:14 pm

Another thing, Steve, is that Obama is simply lying too much. His veracity is continually in question. Even this latest Bergdahl controversy, pitting the president’s actions with the troops’ observations. Who is right? Are the guys on the ground just making it up? Or, as they quite seriously say, “We’re just trying to get the truth out,” as media like the NYTs, dem operatives and the like, trash them.

I find this platoon’s statement, though, hits a nerve with me, as I’ve personally been in a truth-to-power situation, where my truth was at odds with an institution trying to take cover for an inappropriate act . It’s an intimidating place to be in — to be the lone one speaking out — one that takes guts, because you normally don’t come out ahead of big institutions, big government, big business, or the military estabishment.

Dave Schuler June 10, 2014 at 8:03 am

In Arkansas Bill Clinton’s critics used to say that he would rather climb a tree and tell a lie than stand on the ground and tell the truth. That is, he’d lie even when the truth would do just as well.

I don’t know whether that’s an occupational hazard of holders of high office but it certainly seems to be endemic.

Something to keep in mind: just because they’re lawyers doesn’t mean their good lawyers. Clinton got disbarred for lying under oath.

... June 10, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Clinton got disbarred for lying under oath.

No, he got disbarred for getting caught lying under oath.

jan June 10, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Richard Fernandez, of the Belmont Club blog, writes a provocative bookend to the one recently published by Ron Fournier, appealingly nuanced as: A Sudden Realization.

Although it fashionable to caricature the liberal mindset, intelligent liberals are no fools. Many of them have a record of solid achievement believed they could safely engage in income transfers, arms control, engagement with American enemies or even opening the border because they could turn off the valve if things threatened to go too far. They were comfortable with power and certain — perhaps over certain — of their own judgment.

The cornerstone of liberal of the liberal self image is the belief that they can sup with the devil and hold their own. They say ”I’m not stupid. I know when to stop.”

But that assumes the brake will work when the time comes. Now these same intelligent liberals are finding the steering wheel disconnected from the linkage. And a sinking feeling is creeping over them.

Hence, the weight of these numerous, back-to-back non-scandals are starting to break some of the liberal planks supporting liberals’ almost supernatural partisan loyalty to a series of flawed policies and deceptive tactics employed by this incompetent administration.

They’re a bunch of authentic geniuses on a runaway train wondering what went wrong. The blindspot that fooled them was basic. They took the terms of the train journey at face value. That made them highly vulnerable to the one man who boards the train for whom the agreement means nothing at all; the man who puts one last doll inside all the layers of Matryoshka dolls.

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