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The Imperative of Bringing Bergdahl Home

| 10 Comments
At the proverbial end of the day, the moral engine of the argument for President Obama's action is that, in the United States, we do what is necessary to bring our soldiers home.  See, e.g., David Brooks's piece today in the NYT.

I agree with this.  Sgt. Bowe is/was an American soldier.  He was almost certainly a deserter, although under what circumstances remains in some doubt.  He might conceivably have been a collaborator, although much of the evidence being used to make that argument derives from his actions while with the Taliban.  Without knowing more about whether he was their comrade or their captive, such evidence is so inherently unreliable that it must be discounted.

So, yes, he was an American soldier, and for that reason alone was worth bringing home no matter what else he is, including a deserter or worse than that.

Where Obama and his apologists err is in thinking that this ends the argument.  
First, there is the question of when he was to be brought home.  When a war ends, each side generally repatriates enemy soldiers it has captured.  But this war is not over.  Thus,  even assuming that Bergdahl was a captive and not a collaborator, extraordinary efforts to bring him home right now need an explanation.

The initial explanation was that his life was in imminent danger, but that has all but faded off the screen.  A "proof-of-life" video shot in December apparently showed Bergdahl in poor condition, but (1) that was six months ago and (2) even those sympathetic to Obama's position have not claimed that it showed a man at, or near, death's doorstep.  Anyone living off the land  in the mountains  of Afghanistan for years is likely to look less than robustly healthy.

An accompanying explanation has been that a "window of opportunity opened,' and had to be acted upon immediately.  But this is just so much ipse dixit.  It now comes out that our "we-don't-negotiate-with-terrorists" Administration had been negotiating with them in 2011 and 2012, and advised Congress of this  fact.  (This is also being dragged in, as an obvious  back-and-fill afterthought, to assert that Congress was given the legally required notice after all).  There is simply no plausible explanation supporting the now-or-never theory.

But even putting all this to one side, there remains the central question.  Assuming arguendo, as I do, that we do everything we can to bring home our own, what exactly does "everything we can" mean?

Suppose the Taliban had demanded that we torture ten children or they would shoot Bergdahl in the head that very day?  Would we do it?  Suppose they had demanded that we kill one of the five commanders we held at Gitmo  --  say, one not in favor with the Taliban regime currently in power  --  and that we do it without trial or any legal process.  Would we do that?

Of course we would do neither.  The claim by David Brooks et al. that the price of the Bergdahl deal didn't matter is arrant nonsense.  Indeed, it's truly astounding stupidity to say that the price you pay for X doesn't matter, simply because X is a moral imperative. The world is chock full of moral imperatives, and when confronted with a choice among them, you actually have to understand  it is a choice.   

It's impossible to believe that either Brooks or Obama fails to understand this. Thus their dismissal of, among other things, the very real prospect that the released Taliban commanders will kill more Americans, and/or that agreeing to this deal will incentivize stepped-up efforts to take Americans hostage world-wide, is as logically bankrupt as it is morally deaf.



10 Comments

"We do what is necessary to bring our soldiers home"

And then once they are home, many broken in mind and body, we ship them off to the VA to die.

What a sad joke.

" Indeed, it's truly astounding stupidity to say that the price you pay for X doesn't matter, simply because X is a moral imperative. The world is chock full of moral imperatives, and when confronted with a choice among them, you actually have to understand it is a choice."

Here, here.

The intelligence value of five terrorists who have been incarcerated at Gitmo for twelve years is nil. Whether a turncoat or prisoner of the Taliban, Bergdahl has value to both Military intelligence and the CIA. That's why he was traded. After military intelligence finishes debriefing him, he will get turned over to CID, who will debrief him again and finally to JAG who will debrief him a third time. JAG will look at the serious incidence reports filed at the time of his disappearance and weigh that against their own debriefing. It won't be until JAG gets to him that the public will begin to know anything approaching the truth about the trade. Until we get to that point, everyone else is farting in the wind.


Assuming arguendo that the Taliban commanders no longer have intelligence value, they could very well have value as commanders. Why were they the top five on the list of terrorist demands?

As to Bergdahl: How do you know the reason he was traded? Obama at first suggested nothing like what you say, instead insisting that his life was at risk. Lately, that has faded away, replaced by vague suggestions that this was a "confidence building" move, aimed to pave the way for "broader negotiations."

How do you know that's not what Obama was thinking? And, assuming the debriefing process you describe is applied to the majority of returning soldiers, how can you know, without inside information, that it will apply in this very unusual case as well?

// The intelligence value of five terrorists who have been incarcerated
at Gitmo for twelve years is nil.||
 I worked in intelligence in Afghanland ’07-’08. I largely agree with you as to the ‘law of diminishing’ returns from detainees.

 However, and it’s the penultimate *however*:
(1)some of these gits have (current) lethal threat capability to us and
(2)to civilians;
(3)some are guilty of war crimes and worthy of execution; and
(4)to trumpet the imbalanced trade in the Rose Garden and on TV (Susan Rice)
gave untold benefits to the enemy!

 None of the aforementioned even touches on the injury done to our credibility and deterrence as enemies grasp that the President again ignored the law and dictated to Congress without consultation or notification again!

e.g.: ▼ “"It comes to us with some surprise and dismay that the transfers went ahead with no consultation, totally not following law," Feinstein told reporters”“
▼ “Fazl is "wanted by the UN for possible war crimes including the murder of thousands of Shiites””.

www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/06/mullah_omar_hails_re.php##ixzz349qezBmY
www.nbcnews.com/storyline/bowe-bergdahl-released/top-lawmakers-say-white-house-broke-law-bergdahl-deal-n121721
www.ibtimes.com/afghans-say-taliban-prisoners-freed-us-will-rejoin-battle-1592903
online.wsj.com/articles/release-of-taliban-detainees-rattles-afghan-villagers-1401924687


~Adamakis

Dear Adamakis and Mr. Otis,

The short version of my comment is we won't know what Bergdahl is worth until JAG gets him. That could be a while. Until then, all anyone has to offer is conjecture and partisan posturing.

Adamakis, about the traded perps from Gitmo, we don't know their value or the danger they pose because we never held a trial for war crimes or any other crime. If they were really dangerous, perhaps they should have been executed, as unlawful combatants, on the battlefield, as an act of reprisal, when there was an opportunity to legally due so. Most conventions on the laws of war allow for this, on the battlefield.

"The short version of my comment is we won't know what Bergdahl is worth until JAG gets him. That could be a while. Until then, all anyone has to offer is conjecture and partisan posturing."

I take it that that includes Obama and his supporters?

"If they were really dangerous, perhaps they should have been executed, as unlawful combatants, on the battlefield, as an act of reprisal, when there was an opportunity to legally due so."

And where would that opportunity lie? Once captured, even the worst enemy gets a trial of some sort, and cannot just be summarily executed no matter how much they deserve it, see, e.g., Nuremberg, in which the Allies afforded a trial even to those plainly guilty of the worst imaginable crimes against humanity.

In addition, those most loudly critical of the INTERROGATION of KSM would have been that much louder had there been, not an interrogation, but an execution.

Am I wrong about that?

One other question: If the Taliban had demanded that we torture ten children for two hours each (just two hours!) as the price of Bergdahl's release, do you think we should have done that?

If we simply "do not leave American soldiers behind," why not?

I believe that Obama had some foreknowledge of the the worth of Bergdahl and the value of the Gitmo detainees he swapped. But you don't and I don't so I reserve judgement until JAG makes a determination on whether to try Bergdahl or not.

Your hypo at the end of your comment is a non-sequitur. The issue is trading prisoners not torturing children. The Israelis have been trading prisoners for years. During the cold war and Vietnam, the US engaged in and facilitated the trade of intelligence operatives. There is nothing new about this. The detainees traded for Bergdahl were from Gitmo, so their trade was necessarily in the public eye. There are many other detainees held at undisclosed locations in allied countries. Do you not believe that we have not ever traded any of these prisoners held at these undisclosed locations in allied countries during the War on Terror?

"Your hypo at the end of your comment is a non-sequitur. The issue is trading prisoners not torturing children."

Nope. The issue is what is meant by the phrase, "America brings its soldiers home."

If the price of bringing them home is torturing children, then we are NOT going to bring them home (as you essentially concede by criticizing the question rather than answering it).

In other words, the question about bringing soldiers home is -- as with everything else in adult life -- at what price.

This is exactly the question Obama attempts to avoid by saying that this is a "whipped up" controversy.

To the exact contrary, the price we paid, and specifically the surrender of the five top terrorists, is very much in issue. Indeed, you implicitly but plainly concede that it's in issue, by arguing that the five aren't that important anyway. That is an argument ABOUT PRICE.

Obama is flat-out wrong, as well as sneeringly dismissive, in saying the controversy is "whipped up." This is another episode of his trying to avoid debate by claiming that only troglodytes or dead-enders (or, of course, racists) could dispute whatever he decides.

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