Can’t be true. Ransoms are paid for hostages, and Jay Carney assured me Bergdahl was a prisoner, not a hostage.

This isn’t out-of-left-field speculation. Fox News reported two days ago that a ransom for Bergdahl was on the table inside U.S. intelligence circles as recently as December. The key point to grasp here, writes Lachlan Markay, is that the Haqqani Network, which was holding Bergdahl, and the Taliban are two different outfits. The Taliban are true jihadis, bent on reconquering Afghanistan. The Haqqanis are more of an Afghan mafia, bent on enriching themselves. Both have killed lots of American soldiers but only the Haqqanis are a terrorist organization designed by the State Department. The Taliban should be designated, but if we do that and then keep pressing ahead with “peace talks” with them on our way out of the country, Obama will be accused of negotiating with terrorists. (Like he did here, in negotiating with the Haqqanis.) So, voila — the Taliban technically aren’t “terrorists.”

The important thing to understand is the oddness of trading four Taliban to the Haqqani Network. Why would they want the Taliban’s guys out of Gitmo instead of their own guys? Or, to put that differently, did they want these guys out of Gitmo at all?

“The Haqqanis could give a rat’s ass about prisoners,” the official said, referring to the Haqqani Network, a designated terrorist group in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the five Guantanamo Bay prisoners who were freed in exchange for Bergdahl’s release.

“The people that are holding Bergdahl want[ed] cash and someone paid it to them,” he said…

Only one of the freed terrorists, Nabi Omari, was part of the Haqqani Network. But the presence of other more senior Haqqani prisoners at Guantanamo has observers wondering whether the network’s goal in the exchange was actually the release of Gitmo prisoners.

“One of these things doesn’t belong,” the intelligence official said. “If you were to put one of these [freed Taliban prisoners] with Haqqani in a room together, they’d beat the shit out of each other.”…

Haqqani, he said, “benefits zero from the prisoner exchange. … Based on 10 years of working with those guys, the only thing that would make them move Bergdahl is money.”

“We just funded them for the next 10 years is my guess,” he told Markay, which explains why the White House might have wanted to frame this deal as a straight prisoner swap for a missing POW while omitting any details about a big payday.

But that doesn’t answer the key question — namely, if the Haqqanis didn’t care about prisoners and if they really didn’t care about Taliban prisoners specifically, how on earth did four Taliban bigwigs end up being part of the handover? If you believe that O’s prime motive in all this was unloading some weight from Gitmo in preparation for closing it, you already know the answer. If Markay’s source is right, it may be that the U.S. was more eager to include the Taliban Five (or four) in the deal than the Haqqanis were. Obama wanted them gone but he was afraid of the political backlash if he simply released them to Qatar’s custody having gotten nothing in return. So he constructed a deal for Bergdahl which he knew he could kinda sorta defend using the principle “leave no man behind.” Seeing that Obama was willing to free people from Gitmo as part of the deal, it could be that the Haqqanis asked for some of their own men back first but were rebuffed because those guys belong to a “terrorist organization,” which would be harder to defend than letting Taliban “POWs” go. So they accepted the Talban instead. And maybe, given their knack for ransoming, they got something on that end of the deal too: Imagine what the Taliban might have paid them to negotiate the release of degenerates like Mohammed Fazl on the Taliban’s behalf. All speculative, but all worth thinking about.

Exit quotation from Ben Domenech: “This is more about Barack Obama realizing he made a politically beneficial promise in 2008 without thinking it through than the government pursuing the national security interests of Americans.”