Conservative pundits and politicians are making another fuss over President Obama’s leadership, this time due to his successfully securing the freedom of American soldier Bowe Bergdahl who was a captive of the Taliban. Critics are complaining about everything from the legality of the operation, to the wisdom of releasing a few Taliban detainees, to the value of retrieving a soldier who has been accused of desertion.
All of these complaints can be resolved by requiring the critics to answer a simple question: Knowing what we know now, would you favor trading Bergdahl back to the Taliban in exchange for the former prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay?
If the answer is yes, then you have a perverse notion of patriotism. No citizen should consider the captivity of an American to be acceptable. Even if that captive is suspected of criminal behavior, it is the responsibility of our country to adjudicate his fate, not some foreign nation or military faction.
If the answer is no, then, like it or not, you agree with the actions of the President. It would be foolish and inhumane to even consider trading an American away to our enemies in exchange for some of their operatives.
In almost every commentary on this exchange, the conservative critic prefaced his remarks by saying that he was glad that Bergdahl was free and heading home. Then, just as predictably, he would say that it was unconscionable that such hardened terrorists were allowed to leave the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Of course the former would not have been possible without the latter. But what none of them are saying is that the former prisoners do not have much to look forward to. Their movements are being monitored closely by officials in Qatar and, very likely, various U.S. intelligence agencies as well. With regard to the prospect of them returning to a life of terrorism, Obama said…
“Is there a possibility of some of them trying to return to activities that are detrimental to us? Absolutely. But I wouldn’t be doing it if I thought it was contrary to American national security, and we have confidence that we will be in a position to go after them if in fact they are engaging in activities to threaten our defenses.”
In other words, the detainees swapped a life of leisure in the Caribbean for one of constantly looking over their shoulders for drones. Should they choose to rejoin their former comrades on the battlefield, they are most likely going to join more than two hundred of them in the place where they now call home – the graveyard.
It’s more than a little curious that so many right-wingers are now lambasting the release of the Gitmo Five when not so long ago they complained that the detention center was more like a luxury spa than a prison. For example:
- Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX): Gitmo is lap of luxury for detainees. […] The accommodations had a freshness and newness about them. Some of the rooms afforded waterfront views.
- Charles Krauthammer (Fox News): How do I get two weeks at Gitmo? Sounds really good. The weather’s good. I get eighteen channels. A lot of exercise and I don’t have to work.
- Rush Limbaugh (Loudmouth): There’s no better place than Gitmo. Club Gitmo, the Muslim resort. […] It’s a tropical paradise down there where Muslim extremists and terrorist wannabes can get together for rest and relaxation.
You might think that these witty whiners would be happy to see some bad guys evicted from such enviable quarters. Now they are sweating in the desert, dodging bullets, and having to work for a living. Under the circumstances, the implausible hypothetical question posed above might actually offer an appealing alternative to the now “free” Taliban operatives. But all of a sudden, the wingnuts who once thought that Gitmo was coddling their guests, now think they should have remained there to suffer.
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The one common thread that runs through this affair is that conservatives, who like to fancy themselves as Constitutionalists, are all too happy to abandon that document when it suits them. That’s why they have no problem holding enemy combatants for indeterminate periods without ever charging or trying them. And they also don’t object to trying Americans like Bergdahl as a deserter (which carries a penalty of death) without ever conducting an investigation or even getting his testimony.