A military intelligence source also confirmed to Fox News that a second option — involving the payment of a cash ransom for Bergdahl’s freedom — was pursued as late as December 2013.
The source said the goal was to reach out to Pakistan leadership with direct ties to the Taliban, and float the possibility of trading cash, instead of prisoners, for Bergdahl. That option, though, was put “on hold” in December when it was made clear the administration intended to pursue a prisoner swap.
Intelligence officials confirmed to Fox News that the Bergdahl prisoner swap was then on an accelerated track, and no formal assessment of the entire intelligence community was conducted. This made the opportunity to push back against the transfer extremely limited.
How come they didn’t ransom him? One reason, obviously, is Guy’s point. If you’re paying cash for an American’s safe return, it suddenly becomes harder to argue that the people you’re paying are a legitimate army rather than a bunch of terrorists — and of course the U.S. doesn’t negotiate with terrorists. It’s salesmanship, in other words. Obama’s invested in presenting the Taliban to the public as an outfit worthy of sitting across from us at the bargaining table as we negotiate an exit from Afghanistan. A straight prisoner swap preserves that fiction. Paying the danegeld wouldn’t. And really, Obama would have caught almost as much hell for ransoming Bergdahl as he’s getting this week for trading for him. Most of the objectionable elements are common to both scenarios: Bergdahl still would have been accused of desertion, Obama still would have been hammered for incentivizing kidnapping, and he and the White House still would have been branded appeasers in handing something of value to terrorists. The prisoner swap at least lets him hide behind tradition — “the U.S. has always done POW exchanges!” — even if the particulars of it stink on ice.
But there’s another reason, I suspect, they dropped the ransom idea. If I’m right that Obama’s key motive in all of this is getting the ball rolling on closing Gitmo, not getting Bergdahl back, paying a ransom for him makes no sense. That would have forced the White House into two separate transactions, each of which would be judged independently — paying cash for Bergdahl on the one hand and, on the other, releasing the Taliban Five in exchange for nothing whatsoever. Imagine the uproar if O had simply cut them loose, sending them to Qatar en route to the battlefield back in Afghanistan, and offered no defense better than “Hey, it’s time to Guantanamo.” He would have been destroyed over it. The obvious solution was to combine Bergdahl’s release with freeing the Five so that he could frame this as proof that he’s willing to do anything, even make painful concessions, to bring home an American soldier in harm’s way. Bergdahl is just political cover for the White House’s larger, unpalatable goal. Sean Davis makes the same point:
Now, wars are messy things. And P.O.W. exchanges can be even messier. But because the president cared so much about leaving no man behind, he was willing to let some other bad men go in order to return a brave soldier to his family. Yes, those five Taliban terrorists probably deserve to spend their remaining days rotting in a cell, but when given a menu of only terrible options, real leaders make the tough, thankless decisions necessary to preserve the sacred honor of the U.S. armed forces.
That’s how it was supposed to go…
If I had to guess, I’d say that getting Bowe Bergdahl home was not the real priority of the Obama administration. I’d say the real priority was paving the way to the final emptying and closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center. And what better way to do that than by freeing its most dangerous inhabitants? After all, if it’s not being used to house the worst of the worst — and make no mistake, that’s how multiple governments characterized the Taliban Five — then what’s the point of its continued existence?
Precisely. The “euphoria” Obama expected after Bergdahl’s release was supposed to be the perfume masking the stench from sending five lethal degenerates back into the jihadi ranks as a prelude to closing Gitmo entirely. Remember, he said in his State of the Union address in January that this was the year he wanted the prison shut down; that was one month after the ransom idea for Bergdahl had been dropped. Having resolved to exploit his lame-duck status to the fullest in 2014 and proceed with shuttering Gitmo, he recognized that Bergdahl would be better used as a consolation prize in handing over Taliban leaders than as part of some dubious ransom deal.