5 things Obama doesn't want you to know about the Taliban prisoner deal
By Andrew Malcolm
Posted 09:08 AM ET
President Obama held an unusual Rose Garden photo-op Saturday because he wanted to create a story and news video of him talking about the release of the only known U.S. military prisoner in Afghanistan, Bowe Bergdahl.
He's being treated at a military hospital in Germany, possibly for weeks, for unspecified conditions, presumably involving nutritional neglect and possibly psychological difficulties from such long isolation.
Homecomings, especially from wars that Obama wants to be seen ending, are supposed to be happy occasions. (Watched any YouTube military reunions lately?) So, the Democrat had Bergdahl's parents on hand to help celebrate the release of a son whose hometown of Hailey, Idaho is preparing to greet as a hero.
As we've learned from past Obama pivots, however, if any of this soap opera prompts you to forget Obama's latest scandal, years of shoddy medical treatment of thousands of military veterans across the country held hostage by a corrupt, ramshackle Veterans Administration, well, that's OK with Obama.
But here are some compelling details that Obama would just as soon you not know:
I. Private Bergdahl was 23 when assigned guard duty June 30, 2009, in eastern Afghanistan. Sometime during the night Bergdahl kept a compass and water, but shed his weapon, body armor and helmet. Then, he walked off into the darkness, abandoning his guard post and leaving fellow soldiers vulnerable.
A Rolling Stone article since then revealed Bergdahl had become disillusioned by the war and sent home revealing emails, including one saying he was "ashamed to even be American."
Although Obama's departing press secretary, Jay Carney, preferred strangely obtuse language to describe the soldier's status ("Sergeant Bergdhal was in captivity for five years, held against his will"), the Army has routinely promoted Bergdahl, as often occurs with prisoners of war. He's now a sergeant.
II. Part of the appeal of Bergdahl's release from Obama's point of view is the largely unnoticed detail that it reduced the prisoner population at Guantanamo by five, down under 140. Obama vows a lot of things and one of his earliest promises was to close the prison. Congress stymied his efforts to bring the prisoners to the homeland.
So, another option for Obama (Does this sound familiar?) is to go around Congress and simply empty the place out through releases. This despite studies showing at least one-third of released detainees return to battle.
The five involved in the Bergdahl trade weren't ordinary soldiers, but hardcore, high-ranking Taliban officials. A couple are wanted by international bodies for mass murder during the Taliban's initial bloody rule that ended with the allied invasion less than a month after 9/11.
AP (Bob Bergdahl)
Carney and others stressed that under the prisoner exchange, the prime intermediary of Qatar guaranteed the five would not leave for one year, by which time U.S. troop exposure in Afghanistan is scheduled to be under 10,000.
Even if you buy the travel ban (the public knows none of the Qatar details), the agreement ignores these things called telephones and emails, which allow bearded bad guys to send orders home.
III. Appearing on a Sunday TV show again, Susan Rice, now Obama's national security adviser, blamed Bergdahl's Taliban capture on an obscure, anti-Muslim video. Not really.
Although the Pentagon has yet to officially determine the exact circumstances of his custody, Rice expressed the unqualified evaluation that Bergdahl had served "with honor and distinction." Defense Secy. Chuck Hagel was more circumspect: "Other circumstances that may develop and questions, those will be dealt with later."
Carney chose to portray the trade for Bergdahl as standard procedure in a war's closing stages and his boss as following the hallowed American tradition of leaving no one behind in overseas government service.
Awkward, since that's precisely what Obama and Hillary Clinton did to the four Americans murdered that deadly night of Benghazi terrorist violence Sept. 11, 2012. But, of course, that's a phony scandal.
Bergdahl's former Army buddies, however, portray him as having left them behind by deserting. "Bowe Bergdahl deserted during a time of war," said Matt Vierkant, a platoon mate. "And his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him."
IV. That's another disturbing detail that neither Obama nor Carney has bothered to acknowledge. According to area commanders, as soon as Bergdahl was reported missing, all American troops dropped normal duties and began to search.
Taliban forces sent false hints of his whereabouts, luring several search parties into ambushes.
At least six other American soldiers did not return home to waiting families. They died during the fruitless, unnecessary search for Bergdahl.
V. Which brings us to the hapless folks in Congress. According to a law the president signed last year, he's required to notify members 30 days before any Guantanamo prisoner's move or release. Obama's White House says congressional committees were told of the Qatar talks years ago, which is good enough. Case closed.
Rice and Carney claim that due to Bergdahl's deteriorating health, which they somehow knew about, there wasn't time to inform the Hill. But Rice let slip the prisoner swap deal was essentially done Tuesday and Obama talked with Qatar's emir during the president's West Point visit Wednesday.
Truth be told, the real reason is that Congress is a sieve. Thirty seconds after the first member was informed, he or she would be leaking the exciting news to media, stealing Obama's publicity.
Rep. Mike Rogers said the deal put a price on any American's head. "You send a message to every al Qaeda group in the world," he said, "there is some value in a hostage that it didn’t have before.”
One other peculiar detail. On Saturday Bob Bergdahl, the soldier's father, tweeted and then quickly deleted his commitment to get every Guantanamo prisoner released. Then at the White House podium, he spoke briefly in Pashto and expressed great pride in what his son had done, unusual phrasing to describe someone who's allegedly been an involuntary captive.