Pat Buchanan, the conservative columnist, had an excellent commentary published in the MDJ on Wednesday, June 04, 2001. I commend it to those trying to sort through the details of the prisoner swap of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl for the five high level Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo. In it Buchanan recounts a long history going back to the Korean War where we negotiated with our enemies. That said, whether this was a deal that will imperil our national security, endanger our military forces overseas, put American civilians at risk of being kidnapped in foreign countries, I honestly don’t know and neither does anyone else. Well, perhaps there is a group that monitors all sorts of electronic communications that might know more than the rest of us, but they aren’t saying. This deal was not done in isolation. You can be sure that the Joint Chiefs, CIA, and other intelligence organizations had major roles in advising the president.
I would like to add just a couple of additional uninformed thoughts to this debate. First, to clear any doubts about Bergdahl’s status as either a real POW or deserter, the army should conduct a thorough investigation. If the facts support his desertion, Bergdahl should be prosecuted. Putting his fellow soldiers in unnecessary harm’s way should not be taken lightly. Some question whether Bergdahl should even have been traded at all, especially because of evidence that he did walk off his post.
I stand with those that say we bring our own home and never leave anyone behind. Recall the case of Marine Private Robert Garwood who disappeared in Vietnam in 1965. There were questionable circumstances about what occurred, and after all POWs were returned as part of an exchange, Garwood was alleged to have declined to come home. He finally came back in 1979, and the Marines conducted an investigation that led to Garwood’s court martial. Garwood was convicted of being a deserter and collaborator, dishonorably discharged, and forfeited all pay and VA benefits.
That is how due process works. Save the parades and accolades, if any are due, until after all the facts are in about Bergdahl, facts and evidence that should be obtained by trained investigators and thoroughly analyzed by competent military lawyers. Let the Constitution and its safeguards work their magic. I am confident that the truth will come out.
The other issue surrounds the five hard core Taliban. Considering that the likes of Lindsay Graham and a few other outspoken representatives and senators are in difficult reelection contests, I have qualms about taking their rhetoric seriously. It is fair to ask why the five Taliban, if we know they are so dangerous, haven’t been tried either by a military or civilian court. With the winding down of the Afghanistan war, under international law that we recognize concerning POWs, all our Guantanamo prisoners will probably have to be turned back over. These five have been locked up for a good number of years, and it’s likely that their replacements who are today’s leaders would not be willing to hand back over the keys of power to them. It’s more likely that if these five tried, there would be a very ugly power struggle.
And here’s where I go out on a limb. What if just one of the five Taliban has been coopted by our intelligence services? Years of playing on the mind could have a powerful effect. This would hardly be the first war where something like that has happened. If one of these five has become an intelligence asset for us, it’s hard to deny the high value that he would have. At a minimum, when these five find their way back home, even if they remain hard core Jihadists, the intelligence on the other side will likely be concerned about this same issue. No telling what seeds of dissension they might sow in their former ranks. Again, I’m not inventing the wheel here. And it’s just as worthy to consider these possibilities as all the others that are being thrown out there with an equal amount of evidence.