American POW held by Taliban freed in prisoner swap
(Also see Thomas Lifson's blog: "The High Price of Bowe Bergdahl's Freedom")
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only known American POW of the Afghan war has been released by his captors in exchange for 5 high level Taliban prisoners being held at Guantanamo.
The five Taliban detainees at Guantánamo, including two senior militant commanders said to be linked to operations that killed American and allied troops as well as implicated in murdering thousands of Shiites in Afghanistan, were flown from Cuba in the custody of officials from Qatar, who will accompany them back to that Persian Gulf state. They will be subject to security restrictions there, including a one-year travel ban.
Senior administration officials cautioned that the discussions over the prisoner swap, which were secretly restarted last fall after collapsing several months earlier, did not necessarily presage the resumption of the broader, on-again-off-again peace talks to end the 13-year war.
“This is the only issue we’ve discussed with the Taliban in recent months,” said one senior Obama administration official involved in the talks. “We do hope that having succeeded in this narrow but important step, it will create the possibility of expanding the dialogue to other issues. But we don’t have any promises to that effect.”
But word of renewed, secret negotiations with the Taliban brought immediate criticism from some lawmakers, including Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “I have little confidence in the security assurances regarding the movement and activities of the now-released Taliban leaders, and I have even less confidence in this administration’s willingness to ensure they are enforced,” he said. “I believe this decision will threaten the lives of American soldiers for years to come.”
A Western official in Kabul said the Afghan government was not told ahead of time that the Taliban were going to hand over Sergeant Bergdahl or that the release of prisoners from Guantánamo Bay was proceeding, though the Afghans were broadly aware that the talks had been rekindled. American officials feared leaks could scuttle the deal.
President Obama personally called the soldier’s parents on Saturday, shortly after Sergeant Bergdahl was transferred to the American military; the Bergdahl family was in Washington after a visit here for Memorial Day, officials said.
Later on Saturday in the White House Rose Garden, Mr. Obama, flanked by Robert and Jani Bergdahl, the sergeant’s parents, said, “Right now, our top priority is making sure that Bowe gets the care and support that he needs, and that he can be reunited with his family as soon as possible.”
There has been controversy surrounding Bergdahl's status for years. At the time of his capture, he told his parents that he had become "disillusioned" with the military and America's mission in Afghanistan. In one of his last emails, he told his parents “The horror that is America is disgusting" and that he was “ashamed to even be an American,” Prior to his disappearance, he told friends that he was planning to walk to Pakistan if his deployment was "lame," calling into question his mental state at the time of his capture.
In an extensive profile of Bergdahl in a 2012 Rolling Stone article, the emails provided to the magazine by his parents reveal a soldier near the breaking point. No one knows if he defected or was simply picked up by the Haqqani Network of terrorists as he walked alone in the desert. At the very least, it seems, Bergdahl could face military justice for going AWOL. More serious charges await a thorough investigation into the matter.
For the moment, the country's celebration over Bergdahl's release must be termpered by the realization that we negotiated with terrorists for his release and that the 5, high level Taliban commanders we are sending back to Pakistan are likely to kill more Americans before they're through.