This is the big news of the day:
The lone American prisoner of war from the Afghan conflict, captured by insurgents nearly five years ago, has been released to American forces in exchange for five Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Obama administration officials said Saturday.Republicans, predictably, are furious:
The soldier, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, 28, was handed over to American Special Operations troops inside Afghanistan near the Pakistan border about 10:30 a.m. Saturday....
... senior Republicans on Capitol Hill said they were troubled by the means by which it was accomplished....But in all likelihood, if they'd gotten advance notice, the Republicans would have done everything in their power to block the release of Bergdahl -- as, reportedly, they did in 2012:
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.
Republican opposition to diplomatic compromise with the Taliban is blocking the release of a captured U.S soldier held since 2009 and broader negotiations aimed at a resolution of the decade-long war.In July 2012, Rolling Stone published a story about Bergdahl by Michael Hastings. Hastings noted that negotiations for a prisoner exchange were taking place, but were meeting resistance, particularly from Republicans, who planned to demagogue the issue if the released happened before the November election:
A recent German interview with a leading Afghan diplomatic mediator, Naquibullah Shorish, describes the stalled scenario for peace in some detail. The process, launched with Obama administration support in Qatar in 2010 under German mediation, was to begin with a prisoner exchange as a trial test for further talks. The American soldier, Sgt. Bowe Bigdahl, who was captured on June 30, 2009, was to be released in a swap for five Taliban detainees held in Guantanamo. The Taliban believed the exchange had US approval. But US Republican opposition made Congressional approval impossible, and the talks have floundered ever since....
The interview with Shorish, a mediator with links to all parties, appeared at aixpaix.de by the writer Otto Steinbicker on July 8 ...
According to White House sources, Marc Grossman, who replaced Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was given a direct warning by the president's opponents in Congress about trading Bowe for five Taliban prisoners during an election year. "They keep telling me it's going to be Obama's Willie Horton moment," Grossman warned the White House. The threat was as ugly as it was clear: The president's political enemies were prepared to use the release of violent prisoners to paint Obama as a Dukakis-like appeaser, just as Republicans did to the former Massachusetts governor during the 1988 campaign....(The fact that some believe Bergdahl became a POW because he deserted is something to keep in mind as this story develops.)
The tensions came to a boil in January, when administration officials went to Capitol Hill to brief a handful of senators on the possibility of a prisoner exchange....
[Senator John] McCain reluctantly came around on the prisoner exchange, according to those present at the meeting, but he has continued to speak out against negotiating with the Taliban. Opposition has also come from Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a Republican from Georgia who won election with a vicious smear campaign against former Sen. Max Cleland, a decorated Vietnam veteran who lost three limbs in the war. Chambliss, according to Bowe's father, has insisted that America shouldn't make a prisoner trade for a "deserter."
It should be noted that objections to the Bergdahl negotiations didn't just come from Republicans, according to Hastings:
Some top-level officials within the administration, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are very wary about making a swap for Bowe. "Panetta and Hillary don't give a shit about getting him home," says one senior U.S. official involved in the negotiations. "They want to be able to say they COINed their way out of Afghanistan, or whatever, so it doesn't look like they are cutting and running." (Both Clinton and Panetta, by law, would have to sign off on any exchange.)But on the question of whether negotiations like this put Americans at risk, I'll quote Hastings again:
Those in the Pentagon who oppose the prisoner exchange have insisted that the deal would send the wrong message to America's enemies. "The Pentagon is making the argument that American soldiers would become targets for kidnapping," says a senior administration official. "We pushed back on that. They already are -- the Taliban and Al Qaeda have been using their resources to kidnap Americans for years." Prisoner exchanges take place at the ground level all the time in Afghanistan, and Gen. David Petraeus, now the head of the CIA, has pointed out in discussions about Bowe that U.S. forces made distasteful swaps in Iraq -- including one involving Qais Khazali, a Shiite extremist who orchestrated the kidnapping and execution of four U.S. soldiers in Karbala in 2007. Even a hard-line Israeli nationalist like Benjamin Netanyahu has recognized the value of a single soldier: In October, the prime minister agreed to free 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli corporal who had been held captive by Hamas for five years. The move was overwhelmingly supported by the majority of Israelis. "The Israelis really care about the value of one life," says a senior U.S. official. "Does the American public?"Does the American public? Do Republicans? We'll see.