Obama defends prisoner swap

politics | Jun 05, 2014 | By Martin Barillas

Speaking at a June 5 press conference in Brussels during his European junket, President Barack Obama deftly deflected criticism over his swapping of five Muslim terrorists in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl – an American soldier who was kept in captivity by Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan for the last five years. Members of both parties in Congress have expressed exasperation that Obama did not consult them before making the swap.
"I make absolutely no apologies for making sure we get back a young man to his parents,' he said during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, "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."
"We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated, and we were deeply concerned about [him],' Obama told reporters. 'And we saw an opportunity and we seized it. And I make no apologies for that."
Roundly criticized for releasing the terrorists, Obama focused on his administration’s aim of retrieving Bergdahl as being in keeping with a well-founded U.S. insistence of never leaving behind any service personnel wounded or captured on the battlefield. Comment on the blogosphere has been severe. Some commenters suggests that Bergdahl – who the U.S. military had already determined had voluntarily left his platoon and post in Afghanistan – is a deserter at best and perhaps a traitor. Earlier this week, Obama appeared at the White House with Bergdahl’s parents – who had lobbied hard for the release of their son – and triumphantly heralded the exchange that had brought their son back into U.S. custody. 
Charles Krauthammer, a critic of the Obama administration, opined on June 3 that prisoner exchanges are never to the advantage of the U.S. but do indeed characterize “civilized” behavior as opposed to the “barbarism” of terrorists such as the Taliban. Said Krauthammer, “When you make the swap, you know that the terms are uneven. You know the five guys that you have on the screen now are going to return and they are going to try to kill Americans. This is a somber and solemn thing that you do with regret and with sorrow, but you do it in the name of a code."
The five Taliban released by the U.S. from their confinement at the Guantanamo naval facility were transported to Qatar – a Muslim state in the Persian Gulf. They are free to circulate in Qatar and have promised not to engage in hostilities for one year. They were greeted with open arms by their terrorist comrades upon touching down in Qatar.
On June 5, Obama claimed he was right to act quickly and without Congressional approval. Said Obama, “We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated and we were deeply concerned about and we saw that we had an opportunity and we seized it and I make no apologies for that . . . “
He added, “But because of the nature of the folks 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 to move forward.”
In much the same way that he personalized Travyon Martin – a young man who was gunned down by a vigilante in Sanford FL two years ago, Obama said that the now-freed Sergeant Bergdahl is “somebody’s child.” He made note that he writes letter of condolence to the parents and family members of fallen service personnel. “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 write too many letters to folks who unfortunately don’t see their children again after fighting a war.” He expressed sorrow that any parent should have to wonder whether or not a child will return from war.
Obama went on to say that his job as Commander-in-Chief is to “make sure that that child is being taken care of.”
Obama also suggested that criticism of his actions are partisan in nature. “I’m never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington. That’s par for the course . . . .I think it was important for people to understand that this is not some abstraction, this is not a political football.” He ended by saying, “We have a basic principle: we do not leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind.”
Planning for the exchange that brought Sergeant Bergdahl home most likely took several years to plan. Some reports suggest that plans had been afoot since at least 2012. At that time it was Hillary Clinton who was serving as Secretary of State, while Robert Gates – a holdover from the George W. Bush administration – was serving as Secretary of Defense. Both of them presumably had some hand in the successful mission that brought Bergdahl out of Afghanistan. As for Bergdahl himself, he remains beyond the reach of the media. According to DoD sources, he is being debriefed and allowed to recover. 
TIME Magazine reported that Taliban terrorists have been emboldened by Obama's deal and plan to kidnap Americans in the future. One Taliban commander contacted by the magazine sees the exchange as an unmitigated victory for his cause. “Our talks finally proved successful for the prisoners’ swap,” sayid the commander to TIME.  “We returned our valued guest to his people and in return, they freed our five heroes held in Guantanamo Bay since 2002.”



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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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