by Diane Rufino
“Obama admits that Taliban prisoner swap for Bergdahl could put Americans in danger. He also acknowledged that the Taliban fighters could once again engage in efforts that are detrimental to U.S. security.”
The 21st century began with a massacre. Almost thirteen years ago, terrorists based in Afghanistan plotted and planned the massive attack on the United States that would shatter our security and test the value of our freedom. As a consequence of the events of 9/11, President George Bush vowed to hunt terrorists down. As he promised: “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” Since terrorism claims no unique nationality, the United States would engage any county that sponsors terrorism or harbors its agents. On September 14, 2001, the US Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which authorized the use of US armed forces against those responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001. The authorization granted the President the authority to use all “necessary and appropriate force” against those whom he determined “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the September 11th attacks, or who harbored said persons or groups. The AUMF was signed by President Bush four days later. [Note: The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, NDAA, which authorizes $662 billion for national security programs (“for the defense of the United States and its interests abroad”), includes a section on counter-terrorism within the United States. Two of the most controversial provisions of the counter-terrorism section are contained in subsections 1021 and 1022. These sections permit the indefinite detention of American citizens who the executive department identifies as “belligerents” against the United States. Congress cited the AUMF for its authority to target American citizens, although it is almost impossible to understand how].
In any case, the events of 9/11 plunged the United States into an undefined “war” on terrorism. Never before has the United States waged war against a tactic. American civil rights were burdened and unprecedented powers were transferred to the US executive. For years legal scholars have been watching the dynamic and the unfolding of circumstances to evaluate the burden on civil rights in relation to the furtherance of homeland security. And civil rights groups and constitutionally-minded Americans have been critical of the Patriot Act, the NDAA, NSA spying, etc from the get-go. They understand that any surrender of liberty is likely to never be reclaimed.
On Saturday, May 31, President Barack Obama announced that he made an arrangement to free an American soldier that has been held for nearly half a decade in Afghanistan. That “arrangement” was a swap for five “Guantanamo detainees.” As usual, the White House was not completely honest about its actions. The American “soldier,” Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, was more of a “deserter” and Islamic supporter than he was an American soldier. Testimony from some of his fellow platoon members claim that he walked off from his platoon voluntarily and reports have said that as many as six soldiers might have died while searching for him. And the “Guantanamo detainees” were, in fact, five top Taliban terrorists. News reports claim that the freed terrorists are headed back to the battlefield – wherever that may be.
How has the United States honored those six Americans who were killed searching for Bergdahl when he “walked off”? It rendered their sacrifice meaningless by releasing hardened terrorists to go back on the battlefield to kill more Americans.
As justification of his decision, Obama alleged that “unique and exigent circumstances” presented the United States with an opportunity to save Sergeant Bergdahl’s life and he had to move as quickly as possible. Lingering questions remain, and with each day the debate intensifies in Washington and among Americans all over whether the U.S. should have negotiated with the Taliban over prisoners.
Obama’s swap of 5 key terrorists – “the Terrorist Dream Team” – for an American deserter has raised serious questions, including of our President’s fitness to be President and his ability to keep our nation safe. How many Americans may have lost their lives or were wounded or who were sacrificed in trying to secure these five individuals? And how many Americans have lost their lives – brutally at that – at the hands of terrorists related or financed by the Afghan Taliban. The terrorists so cavalierly released by Obama have ties to the al queda and to Osama bin Laden.
Here are my concerns, just to name:
(1) Deserter Bergdahl is a supporter of the Taliban. He deserted to offer support for the terrorist organization, in some form. If anyone should have any questions about that, just reflect back on the conduct of his father at the news of his son’s freedom in exchange for the release of the 5 terrorists. It should be noted that his father, Robert Bergdahl, looks like a Taliban member. At a podium from the White House Rose Garden, and in the President’s presence, he offered a Muslim prayer in honor of the President’s decision to swap notorious Islamic terrorists – enemies of the United States – for his son’s release. He spoke the words: “Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahm,” which means, “In the name of Allah, most Gracious, most Compassionate.”
Taliban leader Mullah Omar pointed to Bergdahl’s use of a Muslim prayer to characterize the actions of our government as a “clear victory” for their movement. He reported as much to the Pakistani news outlets.
To compound the insult, Robert Bergdahl sent a tweet (now removed, but clearly originating from his twitter account) that he would continue to work for the release of the rest of the Islamic prisoners at GITMO.
So here’s my concern. Bergdahl’s conduct can arguably be characterized as traitorous – giving aid and support to an enemy of the United States. Because the US government doesn’t want to be limited to the constraints imposed by the US Constitution (Article III) when it comes to Americans who commit traitorous acts, it invented a new “creature” that would be beyond traditional law – the “enemy combatant.” Originally used to refer to members of the armed forces of a country at which we are at war with, who, without wearing their uniform, wage war or aid/support their cause, the US Supreme Court has perverted that definition to apply it to Americans who “are in arms” against the US or give aid/support to the enemy. Make no mistake, the “enemy combatant” is merely another term for the same individual – a traitor. But an “enemy combatant” has none of the civil rights protections afforded by Article III. In fact, an “enemy combatant” has essentially no constitutional rights. He is barely considered an American citizen. He has less rights than any one of the 9/11 hijackers, had any of them lived to see their day in court.
Obama’s swap then amounts to this: He swapped someone barely recognized as an American for 5 key Taliban terrorists. Senator John McCain commented on the five detainees: “These are the hardest of the hard core.” Two of the five detainees (terrorists) are linked to the massacre of thousands of Shiites in Afghanistan and one has been labeled by the US State Department as a “global terrorist.” As mentioned above, freed Bowe Bergdahl has vowed to continue working to release the rest of such prisoners. One can’t help but note how poorly our country fared in this exchange. In fact, a TV poll today showed that 81% of Americans are concerned about the deal that President Obama struck.
(2) We Americans lost many of our treasured civil liberties because of individuals like those detained as terrorists or likely terrorists in Guantanamo prison. We have sacrificed these liberties in order that our government can identify, track, and prevent them from doing any further harm to us or to our nation’s security. We didn’t sacrifice these liberties in order that the government catch these individuals and then let them go.
(3) The President broke the law by releasing the five GITMO terrorists. Is he not bound to follow the laws that he is tasked to enforce? The President of the United States is required, BY LAW, to notify Congress at least 30 days in advance before transferring any prisoner out of GITMO. He gave no such notification. He made a unilateral decision. There needs to be a full investigation and consequences – articles of impeachment, for starters.
(4) The US has now made it clear that it has reversed its policy of not negotiating with terrorists. One of the greatest protections and assurances that US diplomats and soldiers abroad have is knowing that the United States does not negotiate with terrorists. And now that has been compromised. Senator Ted Cruz perhaps sums up this last concern most concisely in his exchange on June 1 with Ambassador Susan Rise (of Benghazi notoriety): “According to Ambassador Rice, U.S. policy has changed. Now we make deals with terrorists. And the question going forward is, have we just put a price on other U.S. soldiers? What does this tell terrorists, that if you capture a U.S. soldier, you can trade that soldier for five terrorists we’ve gone after. … And the idea that we’re now making trades, what does that do for every single soldier stationed abroad? It says the reason why the U.S. has had the policy for decades of not negotiating with terrorists is because once you start doing it, every other terrorist has an incentive to capture more soldiers.”
Additionally, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. McKeon (R-CA) and the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, James M. Inhofe (R-OK), wrote in a statement, “Trading five senior Taliban leaders from detention in Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl’s release may have consequences for the rest of our forces and all Americans. Our terrorist adversaries now have a strong incentive to capture Americans. That incentive will put our forces in Afghanistan and around the world at even greater risk.”
Again, how has the President’s conduct made the United States safer? In fact, he has made us far more vulnerable and without credibility in our so-called “War on Terror.”
Of course, there are more concerns that I, and others, have regarding the swap of Bergdahl for “the worst of the worst” terrorists, and especially as suspicions continue to grow as to who this deserter and likely Taliban sympathizer is.
In a recent interview, Colonel Allen West said: “Those of us in the know and in the inner circles have known since 2009-2010 that Bowe Bergdahl was a deserter. He’s not a prisoner of war and we know the circumstances; we knew there were nondisclosure agreements that members of his platoon were forced to sign and, as always, the truth is starting to come out now. This whole episode was not about a swap, it was about an out-and-out release of five senior members of the Taliban structure.”
West outlined the need for a thorough Congressional investigation and reiterated that the House ought to draw up articles of impeachment against the president. “I think the articles of impeachment are there because the president broke the law. I don’t care about this Article II signing statement; you can’t just pick and choose and say what’s constitutional and what’s not constitutional.”
The Obama Administration has shrugged-off the release of the GITMO terrorists by claiming that U.S. forces could always recapture them, an option that of course, could come at the expense of more American lives.
Borrowing a term from law school, the decision to swap Bergdahl for five notorious terrorists doesn’t pass the “smell” test. In other words, it stinks. The truth is that there isn’t hasn’t been much from this administration over these past several years that “smells” right. America, Americans, and especially our men in uniform deserve better. We’ve sacrificed far too much for shady deals like this one.
Robert Farley and Eugene Kiely, “Sorting Murking Issues on the POW Swap,” FactCheck, June 6, 2014. Referenced at: http://www.factcheck.org/2014/06/sorting-murky-issues-on-the-pow-swap/
Joe Saunders, “POW’s Dad Praises Allah at Suspicious Rose Garden Press Conference with Obama,” Biz Pac Review, June 1, 2014. Referenced at: http://www.bizpacreview.com/2014/06/01/pows-dad-praises-allah-at-suspicious-rose-garden-press-conference-with-obama-122631
Dan Friedman, Edgar Sandoval, Stephen Rex Brown, and Larry McShane, “Obama Admits that Taliban Prisoner Swap for Bergdahl Could Put Americans in Danger, NY Daily News, June 4, 2014. Referenced at: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/obama-bergdahl-deal-circumstances-american-soldier-back-article-1.1814986#ixzz340WMGKZk
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Q_pmEbDbMM (Video of Robert Bergdahl at the White House Rose Garden)