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“A Very Troubled Man”: Time For Right To Let Go Of Bowe Bergdahl Political Controversy

Today, the Post published excerpts of Bowe Bergdahl’s journal, along with emails and other writings, giving us the most intimate, complex, and in many ways sad view we’ve yet had of the young man who had been held prisoner by the Taliban for five years.

What the journal ultimately shows suggests that as a partisan political issue, Bergdahl’s release is likely to fade before long. The right has gotten about as much as they can out of it, and now that we know how troubled Bergdahl was before he wandered off his base, they may just let it go.

The idea that Bergdahl wasn’t sufficiently deserving of rescue has been central to the conservative criticism of the deal to obtain his release. Even as they wildly exaggerate the danger of the five former Taliban we released (to hear Fox News tell it, you’d almost think the five not only planned and executed the September 11 attacks, they also have super-powers that will enable them to reduce our nation to ashes any day now), many on the right attacked Bergdahl and his family relentlessly, accusing him of being not just a deserter but an outright traitor. Some even mobilized a PR campaign to promote soldiers who would go in the media to criticize Bergdahl.

But his writings, which were shared with the Post by a close friend, tell a story that doesn’t fit into the kind of box that can be easily used for partisan purposes. Among other things, we now know that Bergdahl joined the Coast Guard in 2006 and was quickly discharged for psychological reasons, though he claimed to friends that he had faked mental illness in order to get released (a claim about which they were skeptical). But it’s Bergdahl’s own words that are the most revealing:

The 2006 discharge and a trove of Bergdahl’s writing — his handwritten journal along with essays, stories and e-mails provided to The Washington Post — paint a portrait of a deeply complicated and fragile young man who was by his own account struggling to maintain his mental stability from the start of basic training until the moment he walked off his post in eastern Afghanistan in 2009.

“I’m worried,” he wrote in one journal entry before he deployed. “The closer I get to ship day, the calmer the voices are. I’m reverting. I’m getting colder. My feelings are being flushed with the frozen logic and the training, all the unfeeling cold judgment of the darkness.”

A few pages later, he wrote: “I will not lose this mind, this world I have deep inside. I will not lose this passion of beauty.”

At another point, using his often un­or­tho­dox spelling, he wrote: “Trying to keep my self togeather. I’m so tired of the blackness, but what will happen to me without it. Bloody hell why do I keep thinking of this over and over.”

At another point Bergdahl writes: “I want to change so much and all the time, but then my mind just locks down, as if there was some one else in my mind shutting the door in my face. . . . I want to pull my mind out and drop kick it into a deep gorge.” And then: “In a file dated a few days later, repetitions of the phrase ‘velcro or zipper/velcro or zipper/velcro or zipper’ cover nearly two pages.”

We shouldn’t be too quick to make a conclusive psychiatric diagnosis based on these words. But if you’re someone committed to painting Bergdahl as a traitor who didn’t deserve to be released — or at least, didn’t deserve to have much given up in exchange for him — what do you think when you see that? And let’s recall that until the deal for Bergdahl was actually made, many on the right were attacking the Obama administration for not getting him out sooner; for some, he’s never been anything more than a cudgel with which to beat the administration.

So maybe now they’ll decide that all the personal attacks on Bergdahl have outlived their usefulness. The administration’s opponents have every right to argue, if they choose, that those five Taliban are history’s most terrifying super-villains, and we shouldn’t have made the deal even to get back Audie Murphy. But now that we’re getting a fuller picture of what a troubled soul Bergdahl was, conservatives may decide that there isn’t much margin left in attacking him, lest they end up looking (for the umpteenth time) like they’ve overplayed their political hand and been blinded to everything, even human compassion, by their hatred of this president.

 

By: Paul Waldman, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, June 12, 2014

June 13, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, Conservatives | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In The Land Of Conservative Forgetting”: The Right Didn’t Mind When Bush Paid A Ransom To Terrorists

The Bowe Bergdahl story moves to the hearing stage this week, so we’ll be treated to the sight of preening House Republicans trying to press Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on when it was that he, too, started hating America. Meanwhile, over in the fever swamps, speculation is growing about an alleged “ransom” the Obama administration may have paid to bring Bergdahl home. That Ollie North, of all people, started this talk is one of those laugh, cry, or shoot-the-television moments that now assault our synapses with such regularity; it’s like Judas calling John or James a traitor, or Bernie Madoff aspersing Warren Buffett as a swindler.

North aside, the charge is picking up steam. Fox “News” “reported” that a ransom was on the table last year. The Free Beacon the other day quoted a “senior intelligence official, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press,” who “speculated” that a cash payoff to the Haqqani Network, Bergdahl’s captors, surely had to be involved; the whole story made no sense otherwise. Get the picture? The typical evidence-free allegation, oxygenated by rife speculation from the usual suspects, who have no knowledge of anything but just want to get a meme started. So far, among elected officials, only House GOPer Steve “I’m Even Too Out There for Texas Republicans” Stockman has uttered the r-word.

But what starts with Stockman rarely ends with Stockman. And so I predict this charge is going to become a central talking point on the right in the coming days and weeks. Why wouldn’t it? It’s as high-voltage an allegation as Republicans can muster up. It carries, in its crude form, a subtext not only of colossally naive misjudgment but quite possibly of treason: the idea that not merely did the Manchurian president pay too high a price in the form of the Taliban Five to get back a good-for-nothing deserter, but now he (the theory will go) paid cash money to an evil terrorist network, thus helping to finance the group’s operations against America. As North, who knows whereof he speaks on the subject of abetting terrorists, put it: “Was there a ransom paid? Did the government of the United States, either directly or indirectly, finance a terrorist organization?”

This would all be quite shocking if proved true, right? And maybe even legitimate grounds for impeachment. Funny, though—it somehow wasn’t either of those things in 2002, when the Bush administration did it.

We turn now to the Philippines, where the Abu Sayyaf terror network—Islamic fundamentalist, al Qaeda-linked, occupant of a slot on the State Department’s official terrorist-organization list since Bill Clinton put it there in 1997—was rampaging around the southern archipelago and taking Westerners hostage. Two such hostages were an American husband-and-wife missionary team, Martin and Gracia Burnham. They were kidnapped in May 2001. Their captivity was a pretty big story for a while, but then came September, and the inferno of Lower Manhattan.

The Abu Sayyaf M.O. was the normal one—to demand large (or oddly not so large; the original demand for the Burnhams’ safety was $1 million) sums of money for their captives’ safe return. There were talks, and they bled into 2002. In April of that year, Bush gave a speech that included the line: “No nation can negotiate with terrorists, for there is no way to make peace with those whose only goal is death.”

A nice line. But of course, at that exact moment, the United States was negotiating intently with Abu Sayyaf for the Burnhams’ release. And not only that: The Bush administration arranged an indirect payment to Abu Sayyaf of $300,000, as reported a little later by ABC’s John McWethy, the veteran Pentagon correspondent, and even by Fox’s Brent Baier, whose phrasing had it that “the U.S. government facilitated a ransom payment to al Qaeda-linked terrorists.”

It seems that the payment was indirect rather than direct. But these days, that’s good enough for Ollie North (go reread his quote above). Even an indirect payment by the Obama administration to the Haqqani Network would clearly have these people screaming for impeachment hearings.

But then? Well, that was different. It was after 9/11. Bush was our Churchill. We were strong then, united! And sure enough, I find little record of conservative talking heads or elected Republicans criticizing Bush then, and alas not even any sense that cowed Democrats said much of anything. Those were the days of watching what you said, watching what you did.

Oh. I forgot one detail. We “facilitated” the ransom, but even then we still failed: Poor Martin Burnham was killed in a skirmish when the Philippine army stormed the compound to rescue the couple. Gracia lived, and lives on now. But just imagine that Obama had “facilitated” a ransom to Haqqani, and yet Bergdahl had been killed during a rescue mission. I don’t think I need to complete that thought.

And so here we are again, in the land of conservative forgetting. I do hope, as these hearings commence and House Republicans start raising questions about a possible ransom, that some of their colleagues remind them.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June10, 2014

June 12, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, House Republicans, Terrorists | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Enter Oliver North”: The GOP’s Bergdahl Backlash Has Slipped Into Farce

If you were to think of the person least qualified to criticize the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap, it would have to be someone who oversaw an even more controversial prisoner exchange. Throw in an illegal weapons sale, multiple felony charges, and bingo, you’ve got a guy with basically zero credibility to throw stones on this issue.

Enter Oliver North.

Yes, the former Reagan aide best known for his role in the Iran-Contra affair is miffed about the Bergdahl deal. North exhibited a complete absence of self-awareness Tuesday by baldly insisting, without evidence, that the Obama administration or one of its allies paid a hefty price to grease the deal.

“Someone paid a ransom,” he told Newsmax, estimating that it was probably around $5 million or $6 million.

“And if a ransom was paid, either at our behest or with American tax dollars,” he later told Fox News’ Sean Hannity, “it means this government is causing to be funded a criminal enterprise that kills Americans.”

North even had the gall to boast that he was uniquely qualified to discuss the brouhaha because he knows “a lot about hostage negotiations.”

Indeed, he does. North and other Reagan officials orchestrated illegal arms sales to Iran to rescue American prisoners, and then used the proceeds to finance a secret war in Central America. North was convicted of multiple felonies, though an appeals court later reversed the rulings.

So yes, it’s safe to say North knows a thing or two about hostage negotiations.

North’s foray into the debate would be merely laughable if it weren’t part of the GOP’s larger pattern of gleeful political opportunism on the issue.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — himself a former POW freed in a mass prisoner exchange — called the swap a “mistake.” Months earlier, he said he was “inclined to support” such a deal. Other Republican lawmakers who’d previously called for Bergdahl’s release have suddenly changed their tune as well. Some even deleted from digital media their praise for the administration’s handling of the situation.

Meanwhile, a GOP strategist raced to line up critics of Bergdahl who served with him, an act that smacked of swiftboating. And the National Republican Campaign Committee, perhaps predictably, has already begun using the scuttlebutt to fundraise for the party.

To be sure, there are several legitimate questions that can be asked about the swap. Perhaps most significantly is the concern raised by many lawmakers, including some Democrats, that the administration did not properly keep Congress abreast of the negotiations.

But we’ve seen the GOP go down this path too many times before, seizing on every scandal, manufactured or not, to paint the administration as untrustworthy, lawless, and basically evil. It is the latest #Benghazi for the GOP to flog mindlessly and endlessly in hopes of somehow alchemizing campaign gold from their outrage.

Rather than focusing on whether Bergdahl deserted his troops, or whether the Taliban prisoners handed over were too dangerous to set free, the GOP has instead focused the bulk of its energy on re-upping the exaggerated portrait of Obama as a reckless, incompetent “emperor” who needs to be impeached.

Trotting out Oliver North of all people to tsk-tsk the administration moved the backlash from over-the-top whinging to outright farce, and revealed for the umpteenth time that there’s no bottom the GOP won’t scrape.

 

By: Jon Terbush, The Week, June6, 2014

June 7, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, Prisoner Exchanges | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Absolutely No Apologies”: What Exactly Does The Right Find Objectionable?

If Republicans are waiting for President Obama to express any regret for having freed an American prisoner of war, they’ll apparently be waiting for quite a while.

Obama appeared alongside British Prime Minister David Cameron at a press conference in Brussels earlier, and a reporter asked the U.S. leader, “Have you been surprised by the backlash that’s been whipped up by your decision to do a deal to free Bowe Bergdahl? And what do you think is motivating that?”

The president initially responded, “I’m never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington,” before addressing the substantive issue.

“I’ll repeat what I said two days ago. We have a basic principle: We do not leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind. We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated and we were deeply concerned about, and we saw an opportunity and we seized it. And I make no apologies for that.

“We had discussed with Congress the possibility that something like this might occur. But because of the nature of the folks that we were dealing with and the fragile nature of these negotiations, we felt it was important to go ahead and do what we did. And we’re now explaining to Congress the details of how we moved forward. But this basic principle that we don’t leave anybody behind and this basic recognition that that often means prisoner exchanges with enemies is not unique to my administration – it dates back to the beginning of our Republic.

“And with respect to how we announced it, I think it was important for people to understand that this is not some abstraction, this is not a political football. You have a couple of parents whose kid volunteered to fight in a distant land, who they hadn’t seen in five years and weren’t sure whether they’d ever see again. And as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces, I am responsible for those kids. And I get letters from parents who say, if you are in fact sending my child into war, make sure that that child is being taken care of. And I write too many letters to folks who unfortunately don’t see their children again after fighting the war.”

Obama added, “I make absolutely no apologies for making sure that we get back a young man to his parents and that the American people understand that this is somebody’s child and that we don’t condition whether or not we make the effort to try to get them back.”

I’m not at all sure how elected officials – or anyone else, really – can find such a sentiment objectionable. There’s certainly room for a credible discussion about whether the White House was justified in acting outside the confines of the law regarding congressional notification, and that debate surely matters, as does a conversation about the use of signing statement.

But exactly which part of the president’s response does the right find objectionable?

 

BY: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 5, 2014

June 6, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, Congress, U. S. Military | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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