Suddenly, there is outrage in the land over President Obama’s policy of negotiating prisoner swaps with terrorist organizations, a national-security catastrophe that, as night follows day, is resulting in more abductions by terrorist organizations.
Well, yes, of course. But what took so long? Sorry if I sometimes sound like I work the “I Told You So” beat at the counter-jihad press. But as recounted in these pages, immediately upon assuming power in 2009, Obama started negotiating exchanges of terrorists — lopsided exchanges that sell out American national security for a net-zero return.
Critics now point to the indefensible swap Obama negotiated with our Taliban enemies in 2012 as if it were the start of the problem. In reality, the springing of five top Taliban commanders in exchange for the Haqqani terror network’s release of U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl was fully consistent with what was by then established Obama policy. There was nothing new in our president’s provision of material support to terrorists even as those terrorists continued to conduct offensive terrorist operations against our troops.
Clearly, the Bergdahl–Taliban swap was a disaster. As I’ve previously noted, it would be a profound dereliction of duty for a commander-in-chief to replenish enemy forces in this manner even if the captive we received in exchange had been an American war hero. To the contrary, Obama replenished our enemies in exchange for a likely deserter who may have voluntarily provided intelligence to the enemy and whose treachery cost the lives of American soldiers who tried to find and rescue him.
Even the conservative media are now suggesting it was the Bergdahl–Taliban swap that marked Obama’s reckless departure from longstanding American policy against negotiation with terrorists, and in particular against exchanging captured terrorists for hostages. This policy reversal has indeed incentivized jihadists to capture more Westerners, and prompted state sponsors of jihadists, such as Qatar, to propose more prisoner swaps. Moreover, the Obama strategy has deprived the U.S. of any moral authority or leadership influence to dissuade other countries, such as Jordan, from releasing anti-American jihadists in similar prisoner exchanges.
But the disaster did not begin with the Bergdahl–Taliban swap.
As I detailed in a column soon after Obama took office — specifically, on June 24, 2009 (“Negotiating with Terrorists: The Obama administration ignores a longstanding — and life-saving — policy”):
Even as the mullahs [i.e., the rulers of Iran’s Shiite regime] are terrorizing the Iranian people, the Obama administration is negotiating with an Iranian-backed terrorist organization and abandoning the American proscription against exchanging terrorist prisoners for hostages kidnapped by terrorists. Worse still, Obama has already released a terrorist responsible for the brutal murders of five American soldiers in exchange for the remains of two deceased British hostages.
To summarize: The Iranian government implanted a network of Shia jihadist cells in Iraq in order to spearhead the terror campaign against American troops. The point was to duplicate the Hezbollah model by which Iran controls other territory beyond its borders. In fact, the network of cells, known as Asaib al-Haq (League of the Righteous), was organized by Hezbollah veteran Ali Musa Daqduq.
The network was run day-to-day by two brothers, Qais and Layith Qazali. Both brothers and Daqduq were captured by U.S. forces in Basrah after they orchestrated the assassination-style murders of five American soldiers abducted in Karbala on January 20, 2007.
A few months later, in May 2007, the terror network kidnapped five British civilians. As American troops put their lives on the line to protect Iraq, the terrorist network told Iraq’s Iran-friendly prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, that they would release the Brits in exchange for Daqduq and the Qazali brothers. The Bush administration refused the offer.
But soon after entering office in 2009, President Obama decided to change course and entertain the offer. The new administration rationalized that the trade could serve the purpose of Iraqi political reconciliation — which is to say: Obama, in the midst of pleading for negotiations with the “Death to America” regime in Tehran, prioritized the forging of political ties between Iraq and an Iran-backed terror network over justice for the murderers of American soldiers.
Conveniently, Iran’s influence over Maliki ensured that Iraq would play ball: Maliki’s government would serve as the cut-out, enabling Obama to pretend that (a) he was negotiating with Iraq, not terrorists; and (b) he was releasing terrorists for the sake of Iraqi peace, not as a ransom for hostages.
Layith Qazali was released in July. This failed to satisfy the terror network, which continued to demand the release of Daqduq and Qais Qazali. The terrorists did, however, turn over two of the British hostages — or rather, their remains.
I know you’ll be shock-shocked to hear this, but while Obama’s minions were practicing their so-very-smart diplomacy, the jihadists were killing most of their hostages. At least three of the Brits were murdered. Yet even that did not cause Obama to reconsider his position.
In late 2009, the administration released Qais Qazali in a trade for the last living British hostage, Peter Moore. As The Long War Journal’s Bill Roggio reported at the time, an enraged U.S. military official aware of the details of the swap presciently observed: “We let a very dangerous man go, a man whose hands are stained with U.S. and Iraqi blood. We are going to pay for this in the future.”
Meanwhile, as I related in July 2009, Obama released the “Irbil Five” — five commanders from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds force. Like Daqduq, the Quds force was coordinating Iran’s terror cells in Iraq. At the time, General Ray Odierno, then the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, publicly stated that Iran was continuing to support, fund, and train the terrorists attacking American and allied forces.
As Michael Ledeen pointed out, the release of the five Iranian terrorist commanders – three years before Obama’s release of the five Taliban commanders – was the price the mullahs had demanded to free Roxana Saberi, a freelance journalist the mullahs had been holding. The Obama administration, naturally, claimed that it was not negotiating with terrorists but with sovereign governments (just as it claimed only to be negotiating with Qatar as it cut the Bergdahl deal with the Taliban and the Haqqanis). Besides, said the administration, the president’s hands were tied by the status-of-forces agreement, which purportedly required turning prisoners over to the Iraqi government (for certain return to Iran) — even prisoners responsible for killing hundreds of Americans, even prisoners sure to persevere in the ongoing, global, anti-American jihad.
And then there was Daqduq. His comparative notoriety, coupled with a smattering of negative publicity over the other terrorist negotiations and swaps, caused a delay in his release. But in July 2011, with the Beltway distracted by the debt-ceiling controversy, the Obama administration tried to pull off Daqduq’s stealth transfer to Iraq.
As I noted at the time, however, the Associated Press got wind of the terrorist’s imminent release, and its short report ignited fury on Capitol Hill. Several senators fired off a letter, outraged that the United States would surrender “the highest ranking Hezbollah operative currently in our custody” — a man who would surely return to the jihad “to harm and kill more American servicemen and women” when Iraq inevitably turned him over to Iran, as it had done with other released terrorists.
The administration retreated . . . but only for the moment. Realizing it would be explosive to spring Daqduq during his reelection campaign, Obama waited until the Christmas recess after the election. The president then had the terrorist quietly handed over to Iraq, which, after acquitting Daqduq at a farce of a “trial,” duly released him to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
There is a reason why the Arab press was reporting that the Obama State Department was entertaining discussions with Egyptian authorities about freeing the Blind Sheikh — Omar Abdel Rahman, the convicted terrorist serving a life sentence for running the jihadist cell that bombed the World Trade Center and plotted other attacks against New York City landmarks. There is a reason why, when he assumed power in 2011, Muslim Brotherhood–leader-turned-Egyptian-president Mohamed Morsi proclaimed that his top priorities included pressuring the United States to return the Blind Sheikh to Egypt.
Long before the Bergdahl–Taliban swap, it was well known that the Obama administration was open for business — if the business meant releasing terrorists.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book is Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment.