We offered them some prisoners at Bagram. They demanded the Taliban Five. The White House caved. Then, per WaPo, the White House proposed handing over only two of the five uprfront, with the other three to follow later. No dice, said the Taliban. All five go free or we walk. So all five went free.
But we did get them to agree to a nifty one-year travel ban in Qatar, so put that on a plaque for Obama’s office wall.
My favorite line in the WaPo piece, incidentally, is this one: “There were concerns, officials said, that notifying Congress would lead to public disclosure of the operation or new political roadblocks that administration officials say could have killed the exchange and potentially imperiled Bergdahl.” Breaking federal law to avoid “political roadblocks” is as perfect a distillation of Obama’s second term as you can get.
When the talks began as part of what U.S. officials hoped would be a broader Afghan peace effort, U.S. envoys were forbidden to offer any detainees held in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as part of a trade for Bergdahl. According to people familiar with the process, negotiators were allowed to include only Taliban fighters held at the detention center at Bagram air base, outside Kabul…
The Taliban countered with a list of six senior Taliban officials being held at Guantanamo Bay. The list included the five Taliban commanders released as part of the Bergdahl agreement, as well as a sixth who died during the talks, which stretched from February 2011 until June 2012…
U.S. negotiators proposed that Bergdahl be released at the same time two of the five Guantanamo detainees would be sent from the prison to Qatar, where they would face a travel ban to any destination outside the country. The three remaining detainees would be released three months later.
The Taliban wanted all five to be released at the same time as Bergdahl, with the stipulation that once in Qatar, they would be permitted to travel to Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and to Europe, if necessary, for medical care. U.S. negotiators rejected those conditions.
Apparently, the “moderate Taliban” whom the White House is counting on to broker a phony fig-leaf “peace deal” as we leave Afghanistan concluded they couldn’t sell a swap for Bergdahl to “hardline Taliban” unless the Taliban Five were part of the deal. So the White House stood down and — eventually — scrapped its demand that the prisoners come from Bagram. Any theories, by the way, on why Obama would have been initially reluctant to free Taliban bigwigs at Gitmo circa 2011-12 but is willing to do so now? Was there anything he stood to lose at that time by doing so that he doesn’t stand to lose today? I can think of something.
If you’re going to free five dangerous Gitmo prisoners and take a massive political hit, logically you’d want to get as much as you can for them to soften the blow. And yet:
The Department of Defense was putting together a plan to include Caitlan Coleman of York , Pa., her baby who was born in captivity and her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, in any deal to free Bergdahl, said Joe Kasper, chief of staff to Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who sits on the House Armed Services Committee…
“The DoD was looking at this in the whole of scope of things, to deal with these people as well,” Kasper said. “Instead of five for one, why not five for five?”
In a June 2 letter to President Obama, Hunter said the Defense Department plan, which Hunter said did not have time to materialize before negotiations headed by the State Department gained Bergdahl’s release, did not include a prisoner exchange.
Coleman’s been missing since 2012. Why was it left to Defense to float a (too-late) package to bring her back with Bergdahl? Or maybe I’m missing the point here. Maybe, if this really is all about finding political cover to release dangerous prisoners from Gitmo and ultimately close the prison, it’s better to have Coleman still out there so that other Taliban degenerates can be traded for her separately. She’s an even more sympathetic figure than Bergdahl, having given birth in captivity, so O might be thinking he can get away with repatriating more of the worst of the worst in exchange for her. Note to the Taliban: Ask for Khaled Sheikh Mohammed as part of this one. The answer may surprise you!
Here’s Chuck Todd cutting to the heart of this lame lame-duck diplomatic offensive.