Prisoner Release has the Political Right Fuming
Since the Obama administration arranged for the release of Sargent Bowe Bergdahl, the last U.S. prisoner of war held by the Afghanistan Taliban, there has been a firestorm of outrage from the right wing of both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Bergdahl has been pilloried as a traitor. His father has been denounced as a Muslim. Senators call for him to be court-martialed and thrown into a military stockade.
What is Bergdahl’s crime? While deployed in Afghanistan, he became disillusioned with the war, and said so in emails to his family. In one of these, sent three days before his capture in 2009, he wrote:
“I’m sorry for everything here. These people [Afghans] need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them they’re nothing and that they are stupid and they have no idea how to live. The horror that is America is disgusting.” He also referred to an Afghan child who was run over by a U.S. military vehicle, and the callous response of his superiors.
Shortly thereafter, he walked off his base and apparently went to a nearby village. A day later he was captured and imprisoned. These circumstances remain murky.
What is his father’s crime? With his son in a Taliban prison for five years, he became sympathetic to the plight of the prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Bob Bergdahl, Bowe’s father, was interviewed by the British Guardian in 2012. “I don’t think anybody can relate to the prisoners in Guantánamo more than our family because it’s the same thing,” he said. “How could we have such a high standard of judicial process for horrible war criminals [during World War II] … and yet now we can go for 10-11 years without even having a judicial process? It’s just wrong.”
While his son was being held captive, Bob Bergdahl tried to understand who the Taliban were. He learned some Pashto, as did Bowe while deployed. He also grew a long beard to feel closer to his son, claiming he would not shave it until his son came home.
It was this beard that caused some in the media to level the “charge” that he “looked like a Muslim.” What would be the reaction if the “charge” had been that he “looked like a Jew?”
When he made the announcement that Sargent Bergdahl had been released, Obama stood with the soldier’s parents beside him in the White House Rose Garden. He also referred to Bergdahl as “honourable.”
For the Rose Garden appearance, Obama has been denounced not only by the right, but also by the liberal news media. How dare he stand next to someone with that beard, who advocates the closing of Guantánamo? “They had a Rose Garden ceremony with the man’s parents!” fumed Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.
Big money was spent to hunt up some veterans who had been in Bergdahl’s unit. They were splashed all over TV demanding that he be court-martialed for desertion.
The White House beat a retreat, and stated that after Bergdahl recovers from his ordeal, the military will investigate the circumstances of his capture and take appropriate (unspecified) legal action.
The other aspect to Bergdahl’s release is that it was arranged as part of a prisoner swap with five “VIP” Taliban officials held in Guantánamo.
For some years, members of Congress had been briefed that negotiations were ongoing with the Taliban to exchange these same five people for Bergdahl.
The U.S. media and politicians blur distinctions between the Afghan Taliban, Al Qaeda and other groups.
The Taliban was the government of Afghanistan that the U.S. invasion overthrew. It was a repressive and reactionary government—but so were the warlords of the Northern Alliance factions that the U.S. installed in its place. The Taliban government never attacked the U.S. or its citizens while it was in power.
The five Taliban members who were released in the exchange were government officials. They were not captured on the battlefield, but were taken into custody as officials of the overthrown Taliban government.
That they were held for over a decade in Guantánamo without charges or trial is more a condemnation of Washington than of them.
—The Red Flag, June 14, 2014