"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Rank Hypocrisy”: We Should Negotiate With Terrorists, We Always Have

I’m sure by now you have heard someone on TV say, of the five Taliban returnees, that we were going to have to give them back anyway, on cessation of hostilities. What you may not have heard said quite so often is why that is the case. But the reason is crucially important, because it brings to the fore one of the great hypocrisies under which the United States is forced to—or has chosen to—labor, and one we should do away with posthaste: this ridiculous idea that “We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

With respect to the release of the hirsute quintet, here’s the deal. We declared war on the Taliban in 2001. “We,” the Bush administration, did this, although I confess I supported that war (never Iraq, though). Once we declared war on them and invaded their country, the rules of war applied. That means prisoners taken aren’t hostages. They are prisoners of war. And prisoners of war are accorded certain rights, some of which we violated but never mind that, and they are returned, usually at war’s end but sometimes before, through a process of… well, negotiation. It’s been this way since warfare began. And aside from prisoner exchanges, there is of course the matter of ending hostilities in the first place. That also must be negotiated.

“We” also—that is, President George W. Bush, by executive order—declared the Taliban a terrorist organization in 2002.  The group is not on the State Department list, but a presidential declaration has the same legal standing and force.

And so, the conundrum of illogic that these two declarations created: The Taliban are both an enemy combatant with which we absolutely must negotiate, and a terrorist group with which we absolutely must not negotiate.

Obviously, those two realities exist in tension. How do we resolve it? You might say “by not declaring war on them,” and it has to be said, in retrospect, that sounds like a damn good idea. It should never, ever, ever be forgotten, while these Republicans bang on at President Obama for everything he does, that he was put in this position only because we started fighting this 14-year war—the longest in our history; we defeated Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo in less than one-third the time—with fewer than 2,000 soldiers on the ground.  And we—excuse me, “we”—did that because our brilliant leaders knew at that point that they wanted to save the bigger numbers for taking out Saddam Hussein. So yes, in hindsight, no war in Afghanistan, at least as it was waged by the geniuses who created this world-historic catastrophe, sounds a good thought.

But at least in warfare, there are certain rules that go back millennia. The United States’ fight against terrorism is only about 40 years old, and it largely coincides with the years of right-wing backlash. And so, just as we had to start getting “tough on crime” domestically in the late 1970s with a series of policies that are in fact bankrupting states and municipalities and are plainly racist, as even America’s greatest conservative (and evangelical Christian!) criminologist acknowledged before his premature death,  we also had to be “tough on terrorism” abroad.

It’s hard to place exactly when “We don’t negotiate with terrorists” entered the political lexicon. It’s pretty clear that it was Ronald Reagan who first said it, maybe during the 1980 campaign, maybe later. What matters is that it was rank hypocrisy from the moment it flew out of his mouth. His transition team negotiated the Iranian hostages’ release behind Jimmy Carter’s back. That was certainly negotiating with terrorists. And what was the Iran-Contra affair? The overture was made to Iran (a terrorist state in American eyes, then and now) in the first instance in an effort to free some American hostages being held in Lebanon. The president who didn’t negotiate with terrorists negotiated a deal that gave the terrorism-sponsoring state more than 2,000 anti-tank missiles, maintaining in his mind the fiction that he hadn’t negotiated with terrorists through the belief that his people were dealing only with Iranian “moderates.” What these “moderates” were going to do with 2,000 anti-tank missiles except give them to the non-moderate, terrorism-sponsoring regime then engaged in a war with Iraq is one of the puzzles of the Reagan mind, but let’s press on.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 6, 2014

June 10, 2014 Posted by | POW's, Terrorism, Terrorists | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Attack First, Get The Facts Never”: Republicans Couldn’t Wait To Go On The Attack After Bowe Bergdahl’s Release

Bowe Bergdahl. How long is this going to continue?

Cable chatter, talking heads with little to talk about, Republican orchestrated guests with (surprise!) more Obama attacks, facts be damned.

It reminds me of the disappearance of former congressional intern Chandra Levy, where the cable guys couldn’t get enough but didn’t know enough, or the recent 24/7 coverage of a lost airliner where all the reporting was that there was nothing to report.

Republicans called for action to get Bergdahl released and criticized Obama for not doing enough, then, when he was released, condemned the release. Here are some examples:

Sarah Palin before: “Todd and I are praying for Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl, his family, and all of his fellow soldiers who are putting their lives on the line to defend our freedom and protect democracy abroad,”

Sarah Palin after the release: “No, Mr. President, a soldier expressing horrid anti-American beliefs – even boldly putting them in writing and unabashedly firing off his messages while in uniform, just three days before he left his unit on foot – is not ‘honorable service.’ Unless that is your standard.”

Former Rep. Alan West, R-Fla., before: “Then there is Army SGT Bowe Bergdahl still held by the Islamic terrorist Haqqani network, probably in Pakistan, in the same place where Osama Bin Laden was hiding. This past POW/MIA national day of recognition, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reiterated a pledge to secure the young Army NCO being held captive, but have there been any actions? Any time, attention, or even mention from the Commander-in-Chief? Nah, no camera highlights in it for him.”

Alan West after the release: “Ladies and gentlemen, I submit that Barack Hussein Obama’s unilateral negotiations with terrorists and the ensuing release of their key leadership without consult — mandated by law — with the U.S. Congress represents high crimes and misdemeanors, an impeachable offense.”

There are plenty more examples of the before/after effect from Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and James Inhofe, R-Okla., to name a few.

Some Republicans put up tweets of praise, then withdrew them, but Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., takes the cake with this statement which was later deleted from his website:

“A grateful nation welcomes the news of the return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. I have the pleasure of regularly speaking with our nation’s active duty military and veterans and I know that there is nothing more solemn than the pledge to never leave one of their own behind on the field of battle.

“Sgt. Bergdahl is a national hero. It’s my hope that once he ultimately retires from active duty service, implementation of reforms to our nation’s VA hospitals are made so that he will have access to the long-term care he has rightfully earned from the horrors he endured.”

OK, fine, this is politics. This is gladiator cable TV. This is a “hot” story.

But, maybe, just maybe, we ought to let the military examine what we know, what we don’t know, what are rumors and what are facts. Maybe we ought to hear from Sgt. Bergdahl before attacking his family, his friends, anyone who ever knew him. Maybe we should not be so quick to judge and cast aspersions on all involved before we know more.

But that is not how the emotional vice that is our politics works – you sense an opening, go for the jugular, any jugular, even if there is collateral damage.


By: Peter Fenn, U. S.News and World Report, June 5, 2014

June 8, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, Politics, POW's | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Realities Of Modern Warfare”: Why ‘We Don’t Negotiate With Terrorists’ No Longer Holds Up As Policy

Like so many Americans, I have spent the past few days assimilating as much information as possible regarding the circumstances involving the ‘player trade’ that will bring Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl home to the United States while five terrorists check out of Gitmo and make their way to freedom in Qatar.

While there seems to be no end to the ‘angles’ to be considered in attempting to reach a conclusion as to the propriety—both long term and short term—of the deal, increasingly I find that one of our more culturally ingrained and instantly accepted axioms has been challenged by this case and turns out to be a position that cannot—and should not—be allowed to govern our behavior in the future.

That axiom?

“We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

This is a sentence that few would challenge for all the obvious reasons—but one that has never really been true, despite the preposterous statement made by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, wherein he suggested that the President’s deal to retrieve Bergdahl ends the chapter in American history where we don’t negotiate with terrorists.

In 2007, a British IT consultant named Peter Moore, who had been captured in Baghdad by Shiite militiamen who ambushed Moore and his bodyguards, was freed after some 900 days in captivity. Sadly, only Moore would ultimately survive the experience as the terrorists murdered the remaining four members of his party.

To secure Moore’s release, the U.S. government agreed to free Qais al-Khazali who had previously served as a spokesman for the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr (remember him?). We had, most assuredly, negotiated with terrorists to arrange for Moore’s release and handed over a high value detainee in the process.

Note that Mr. Moore was a civilian—not military—and yet we freed a high value terrorists as the price for the freedom of an American captive.

In 1985, the Reagan administration used the Israelis to ‘front’ a deal (not unlike how we have used the Qataris in the instance of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl) whereby the Israelis freed 700 prisoners in trade for Americans that were taken captive on a hijacked TWA flight.

And then, of course, there is the whole Iran-Contra thing.

These are but a few examples of the secret dealing with terrorists that has long taken place.

But should we be following this rule more rigorously?

On it’s face, the notion of not negotiating with terrorists is a sensible proposition. When one choses to reward evil behavior by giving the bad guys what they want, it is reasonable to anticipate that these bad guys—and others like them—will continue their horrendous acts of violence knowing that there may well be a prize in it for them.

To that end, there is simply no getting around the fact that trading five supposedly high-value terrorists (there is disagreement as to how effective the released prisoners will be given their age and time out of the battle) for one unpopular U.S. serviceman may very well encourage others with ill intent to take more American soldiers from the battlefield and hold them for trade—not to mention civilians, diplomats or whomever.

However, where this accepted rule of thumb that demands no negotiating with terrorists comes into serious conflict with the reality of modern warfare is when it comes to members of our military who fight these wars.

Few would dispute that it is a fundamental mission of the U.S. military to do all it humanly can to avoid leaving any American combatant behind. This principle of warfare was, at one time, an easy one to grasp—if sometimes hard to execute—at a time when warfare involved a clash between nations fought by soldiers in the uniform of the nation they serve.


By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, June 5, 2014

June 8, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, POW's, Terrorists | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Chicken Hawks”: The Despicable Republican Attack On An American Prisoner Of War

It is hard to fathom. Major elements of the once-proud Republican Party have stooped so low that they are systematically attacking an American prisoner of war because they believe it discredits their political adversaries.

Only one word serves to properly describe such behavior: despicable. And the mainstream media outlets that have enabled this attack by taking it seriously are not much better.

Here are the facts:

On Friday, President Obama announced the release of the last American POW in Afghanistan — Bowe Bergdahl. In exchange, five Taliban prisoners were released from Guantanamo Prison into the custody of the Qatari government that had helped broker the prisoner exchange. The Qataris agreed to prevent the Taliban prisoners from returning to Afghanistan for a year, by which time America’s combat role in Afghanistan will have ceased.

Almost immediately, the deal was attacked by Republicans as “negotiating with terrorists” — an act that they say would encourage more “hostage taking.”

In fact, of course the deal was a traditional prisoner exchange — the kind that combatants do regularly at the end of — and often during — wars. Both sides released prisoners of war that were taken by the other on an active battlefield.

The president negotiated the exchange because his overwhelming responsibility was to fulfill his commitment not to leave any American soldier behind when America’s combat role in Afghanistan ends later this year. What would the Republicans have done — let him live out his life in the hands of the Taliban?

You bet this exchange was in the national security interests of the United States, because it sent a message to all of the men and women in the American military — people who have volunteered to risk their lives for their fellow Americans — that our country has their back — that we will not forget them and leave them to die in some far off place once a conflict is over.

In fact many of the critics of the exchange never saw a day of combat in their lives. They stayed safely at home — having dinners at their favorite restaurants, enjoying a round of golf on the weekends — while they demanded that other Americans go to war in the Middle East. And now they have the audacity to question whether it is worth it to exchanging some Taliban prisoners to free one of the people who actually went to fight in their wars?

Many of the loudest critics are precisely the same “chicken hawks” who were the architects of the Iraq War — the greatest security and foreign policy disaster of recent history — premised entirely on intentional lies to the American people. In fact, many of them should have lost the right to be taken seriously on any matter of foreign policy, much less the right to be taken seriously when they — in effect — advocate that an American soldier be left as a POW for the rest of his life.

But the right wing’s attacks did not end with assaults on the prisoner exchange itself. Now they have turned to attack the character of the POW himself and the circumstances in which he was captured.

The bottom line is simple. If Bergdahl’s violation of a rule made him an easier target for capture by the Taliban, it is up to the American military to decide the facts of the case — not the right-wing pundits. And if he should have been disciplined, that’s up to the American military as well — not the Taliban.

Whatever the circumstances, Bergdahl suffered five years of deprivation and hopelessness that is unimaginable to the sanctimonious “chicken hawks” who sat safely by state-side while others fought and died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In fact their attacks are reminiscent of the shameful way America treated returning Viet Nam veterans almost half a century ago.

This time, the “Obama derangement syndrome” that infects the right-wing pundit class has led them into a dark place that is simply over the top — even for them. Their Republican colleagues who are not so deeply infected by this disorder should restrain and silence them for their own good — and to protect what is left of the reputation of what was once a respectable political party.


By: Robert Creamer, The Huffington Post Blog, June 3, 2014

June 6, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, GOP, POW's | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“John McCain Position Switch On Bergdahl Deal”: Is He The Most Disingenuous Member Of Senate Or Simply Unfit To Serve?

It is not uncommon for politicians from all parties to be caught in the occasional act of political hypocrisy.

Still, Arizona Republican and one-time presidential nominee, Senator John McCain, has set a new high watermark when it comes to committing an act of hypocrisy so disingenuous as to raise the bar for all politicians seeking to achieve professional status in the time honored political tradition of speaking from both sides of the mouth.

Appearing this past Sunday on “Face The Nation”, McCain expressed his profound concern for the trade involving five top ranking terrorists for the return of Bowie Bergdahl.


Nothing much to see there, yes? After all, there is nothing unusual nor surprising in Senator McCain’s words given that there are is no shortage of people on both sides of the political divide who have some serious reservations as to the wisdom of the deal.

Certainly, Senator McCain, who has rarely met a war he didn’t like, would be expected to voice his concern and criticism.

The only problem is that just three months ago, Senator McCain, appearing on CNN, voiced his support for the very same deal that he now finds to be so profoundly disturbing.


While McCain notes that he objected to an earlier proposal that would have called for releasing the very same high value terrorists as an act of “confidence building” with the Taliban, he clearly states that he would support the release of these people if the prize were to be the American soldier being held by the Taliban. He later modifies his response to say that if the exchange were for one of these terrorists—whom he told us just this past Sunday were people responsible for the deaths of thousands—he would support the deal.

Does anyone out there believe that the critics would have been silenced if the exchange had only involved one terrorist…or two…or three? If you believe that our policy of not negotiating with terrorists is the correct policy, does negotiating for the release of one high ranking terrorist make it better? Yet, there is Mr. McCain voicing his support for a deal that , just three months later, he would go on TV to condemn.

I don’t think anything more need be said except that we should all be embarrassed and deeply concerned that this man continues to hold such an important position in our government.


By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, June 4, 2014

June 5, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, John McCain, POW's | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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