American Government Needs to Become Reacquainted With the Truth
We can’t be governed like this. Shameless lies about life-and-death matters erode the consent of the governed.
The president wants to empty out Guantanamo Bay by the time he leaves office, and perhaps as soon as the end of the year. As the Obama administration sees it, once the war in Afghanistan ends at the end of the year, we don’t have a right to hold our captured Taliban any longer.
You may recall that on the afternoon of September 11, President Bush declared that we would treat those who shelter, support, fund, or feed terrorists the same way we treat terrorists. Throughout his presidency, he repeatedly set a clear standard: “If you harbor terrorists, you are a terrorist; if you train or arm a terrorist, you are a terrorist; if you feed a terrorist or fund a terrorist, you’re a terrorist, and you will be held accountable by the United States and our friends.”
We made a clear offer to the Taliban: Turn over al-Qaeda, or you’re at war with us. Mullah Omar made his choice. (“He chose . . . poorly.”) At no point have they said “uncle” or surrendered. Mullah Omar hasn’t come out of hiding to say, “All right, all right, we won’t shelter al-Qaeda anymore.” In fact, we dropped that demand, if you believe unnamed official sources in the Daily Telegraph:
One official significantly added that a requirement for the Taliban to drop relations with al Qaeda — something which had stymied previous attempts at direct talks — was no longer necessary in order for them to progress.
“We’ve long had a demand on the Taliban that they make a statement that distances themselves from the movement from international terrorism, but made clear that we didn’t expect immediately for them to break ties with al-Qaeda, because that’s an outcome of the negotiation process,” the official said.
We never recognized the Taliban as the legitimate ruler or government of Afghanistan. Yet now we’re talking about returning their guys because our president wants the Afghanistan war to be over. (As someone put it, you can tell whether we won in Afghanistan by the fact that we’re negotiating with the Taliban, the guys we set out to fight.)
And the message is spreading through Afghanistan . . . the bad guys are loose again.
Taliban forces led by Mohammed Fazl swept through this village on the Shomali plain north of Kabul in 1999 in a scorched-earth offensive that prompted some 300,000 people to flee for their lives.
Fifteen years later, local residents here are responding with fear and dismay to the U.S. release of the notorious commander, along with four other Taliban leaders in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only American prisoner of war who was held by the Taliban.
Keep in mind, all of these guys are associated with al-Qaeda or attacks against Americans:
In addition to Mr. Fazl, other released detainees also played major roles in the former Taliban regime. Khairullah Khairkhwa, a minister of interior in the former Taliban government, served as the militant group’s liaison to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to a 2008 Pentagon assessment. Noorullah Noori, once a senior Taliban military commander in northern Afghanistan, led Taliban forces against the U.S. and its Northern Alliance allies during the 2001 invasion, according to the Pentagon.
Pentagon assessments describe the two other former prisoners, Mohammed Nabi Omari and Abdul Haq Wasiq, as linked to other Islamic extremist groups, including al-Qaeda.
The president does this in complete contradiction of public opinion.
A prisoner exchange that released U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five top-level Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay has sparked debate over negotiating with terrorists. Fully 84 percent of voters are concerned that making deals with terrorists will encourage those groups to take more American soldiers hostage. That includes a 57-percent majority that is “very” concerned and another 27 percent that is “somewhat” concerned.
Only 15 percent aren’t worried deals like this will put more troops at risk.
Back to Guantanamo Bay. The Obama administration has convinced itself — after the Iraq withdrawal, after the Arab Spring, after the collapse of Syria and the 160,000 dead there, after the Benghazi attacks, after Boston — that somehow if we shut down Guantanamo Bay, that will create a discernible reduction in anti-American attitudes around the world and particularly in the Muslim world.
What’s more, the Obama administration seems to think that by releasing the most dangerous members of the Taliban in custody, they will make the Taliban more peaceful, agreeable, and cooperative:
During the same debate, officials were considering the emerging prisoner-exchange proposal. White House advisers believed that a successful exchange would not only free Bergdahl but would also encourage moderate Taliban members to take an Afghan-led reconciliation process seriously.
The Gitmo prisoners are all members of groups that have pledged to kill Americans, tried to kill Americans, or have actually killed Americans. If an American is convicted of killing another American, they’re sentenced to life in prison or perhaps the death penalty. A lot of folks think Gitmo is pretty cushy considering their former lives in places like Afghanistan.
Obama himself admitted that in the case of these released detainees, there’s “absolutely” a chance that these guys will go back to trying to help their allies kill Americans again. So, to sum up: If these guys stay in Gitmo, there’s no chance they’ll kill an American in the future. If they get released, there is, in the president’s own words, “absolutely” a chance they kill again in the future. Where is the upside for us? What do we, the American people, get out of this deal?
(One caveat: The Qatari government has to know that if any of these five get loose and kill Americans, the outrage from the American public will be volcanic. You have to wonder if the Qataris have some back-pocket “unfortunate car accident” plans if any of these five seem a little too eager to get back to the battlefield.)
Anyway, if Obama were a better president, he would level with all of us, and declare, “I intend to hand off all of the Guantanamo Bay detainees to foreign governments by the end of the year.”
Of course, the reaction from the public would be apoplectic, as Obama would be announcing that he would be effectively undoing years of unbelievably difficult work which cost the blood, treasure, and lives of the U.S. military and our intelligence agencies, and putting all kinds of ruthless terrorists in the hands of governments that may or may not be all that diligent about keeping them under control.
Obama doesn’t do that. He tries this deal for these five as a trial balloon. Of course, he doesn’t tell Congress, not even Senator Dianne Feinstein, because she would say no. (Strangely, he appears to have told Senator Harry Reid alone.) He goes ahead and does it, even though the law requires him to give Congress 30 days notice. How long does it take to inform Congress? It requires a few secure phone calls. You could do it in an hour.
Ignoring the legislative branch is pretty bad, although it’s not clear the public will get up in arms about members of Congress being irked they weren’t kept in the loop. But the public can, should, and I suspect will be mad when the administration lies to them. Certainly, members of our military could not abide the administration’s claim that Bergdahl was a hero or Susan Rice’s claim that Bergdahl “served with honor and distinction.”
(Although I suppose being captured by the Taliban is pretty distinctive.)
Charles Lane, usually one of the most sensible non-conservative columnists out there, writes:
Obama made a bit of a fool of himself by treating Bergdahl’s impending return as appropriate for Rose Garden celebration, complete with grateful parents, even though he knew, or easily should have known, that Bergdahl is hardly a hero.
That attempt to gin up an election-year feel-good story fell flat, as did national security adviser Susan Rice’s clueless depiction of Bergdahl’s Army career as one of “honor and distinction.”
White House efforts to glorify Bergdahl were matched by the right’s efforts to demonize him. He stands accused of desertion, which is indeed a very serious offense. Convicting him of it under military law requires proof, which we don’t yet have, that he intended to leave his unit for good or sought to avoid a hazardous assignment.
Okay, but we have nine members of his platoon coming forward and contending he is a deserter. We have some evidence — after all, he went missing! — and we have, at this point, not even a theoretical alternate explanation for his actions. He just went for a walk? Sleepwalking? No gun, vest, or night-vision goggles? Come on, Charles, the circumstantial evidence fits. Of course Bergdahl deserves his day in court. And he’ll get it. But let’s not pretend that these nine other soldiers don’t exist because they’re proving so inconvenient to the administration’s narrative.