We have traded five pretty senior Taliban, held innocuously at Gitmo, for one Bowe Bergdahl.
It seems there is a law on the books which requires the administration to give 30 days’ advance notice to Congress prior to any release of any of the Gitmo perpetrators. Predictably Dear Leader did not do that. However much it galls me to confess this, I have to say I agree with him on that one. There is nothing — nothing at all — in the Constitution which grants Congress the authority to place such a constraint on a president’s war-fighting powers, and unlike others I do not think that the congressional power of the purse gets you there. To put it bluntly, I do not think that Congress has the constitutional ability to decree that “no funds of the United States of America shall be expended in the defense thereof,” a proposition you have to accept if you accept that Congress could use the power for this specific purpose (there’s no logical stopping point in between). Forbidding expenditure in the exchange of prisoners — an inherent prerogative of command — falls on the wrong side of that divide. Like it or not, how the human scum we cooped up in Gitmo are dealt with is squarely on the war-fighting side of the ledger, and Congress has no power to fight a war.
On the other hand, as with it seems nearly everything else Dear Leader does, there is a great deal more to it than that.
The original story put out by Bergdahl himself was that he’d been captured while straggling behind a patrol. Except there was no patrol that night. He was on sentry-duty, was duly relieved, and vanished into the night. From CNN: “According to firsthand accounts from soldiers in his platoon, Bergdahl, while on guard duty, shed his weapons and walked off the observation post with nothing more than a compass, a knife, water, a digital camera and a diary. . . . ‘Any of us would have died for him while he was with us, and then for him to just leave us like that, it was a very big betrayal,’ said former U.S. Army Sgt. Josh Korder, who has the name of three soldiers who died while searching for Bergdahl tattooed on his back.” From The Weekly Standard: “‘You don’t mail all your personal belongings home, especially your computer. It’s not like you can go to a sports bar — there’s no sports bars over there,” says Specialist [Cody] Full [a platoon mate]. ‘You just wouldn’t give up your computer if you weren’t planning to leave. He knowingly deserted and he put countless fellow Americans in danger — not just his platoon mates.'”
Suffice it to say that, the headline in the FAZ notwithstanding (“Better, he’s a Hero”) Bowe Bergdahl is no hero. [Update (03 Jun 14, 1525 local): Along the lines of oopsies, the FAZ‘s newest headline on this deserter and traitor is now “Everything but a Hero”. At least we’ve got that part straightened out, now.]
According to voice intercepts from the Taliban, he was taken while taking a dump. Of course, that snapshot — however much Gentle Reader might have been able to do without the mental image — says exactly nothing about how he absented himself from his unit or what his intentions were. He was walking down the road, felt the urge (remember he’d been on sentry duty and so would not have been able to make a head call for several hours), dropped ’em and was come upon in that position by the Taliban? OK; so what?
As The Hill reports, “At least six U.S. soldiers died hunting for Bergdahl, CNN reports. Many of his fellow troops also told CNN that they had to sign nondisclosure agreements to never share information about his disappearance and the hunt for him.”
It seems, in fact, that not just the military but other agencies as well have been investigating the events of that night and those subsequent. The military has “a major classified file” on the subject, the existence of which has now been leaked, with the obvious purpose of encouraging a congressional subpoena of its contents.
So let’s see: A guy takes off in the middle of the night, with everything tending towards, and nothing to contradict, the inference of an intentional desertion from his duty post in time of war (which carries the death penalty, according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice). Multiple American troops, both regular army and special forces, are killed or wounded looking for him. The whole thing is taken so seriously and at such high levels that there’s not just some file mouldering in someone’s office, but a “major classified file” on this jackass at the Pentagon. The soldiers who knew him best and who were most familiar with the events of his desertion and immediately following are strong-armed into signing non-disclosure agreements (how many thousand GIs went MIA in Germany, Korea, or Vietnam? and how many non-disclosure agreements were extorted from their closest comrades?). The deserter in question was a machine gunner. Not exactly a high-value asset to the Warriors of the Religion of Peace. He’s kept alive for five years, by groups who are not known for their solicitude for useless feeders from the opposite side.
It gets better. The Bergdahls lived in Idaho, outside a small town. The FAZ reports their house had “thousands of books” but no television. Sounds a lot like my house, actually. Daddy Bergdahl grows a beard “for solidarity” (as reported in the FAZ; it’s not reported with whom he was expressing solidarity), and then greets his son by video link with (in Pashto, no less), “I am your father.” As Michael Ledeen observes, that’s just not how any normal father would greet his son. I’ve got three boys of my own, and while they’re not old enough to have served, I can guarantee you that if I am ever in Papa Bergdahl’s situation you will not hear me constrained to identify myself as my boy’s father. And certainly not in the language of his captors, the people who killed and wounded the Americans who went looking for my son. Ledeen, whose initial reaction was the same as mine, professes himself to have “calmed down” a bit since then (he’s got more reliable sources than most, but I still am not comforted), but on one point I wholeheartedly agree with him: “The people I wouldn’t trust on this one – aside from top decision makers who likely have a lot to hide – are the Bergdahls. They’re very odd people, to put it mildly.”
It is also reported by the FAZ that Papa Bergdahl learned Pashto in order to work directly with the “captors” for his son’s release. Or was it for some other reason? Gentle Reader will remember that when one takes and “turns” an enemy, foremost in one’s mind is forever the question whether this is a plant. While you can never be sure, one of the things you can do is monitor closely and control his communications. If he’s communicating with the folks back home in his native language you can never tell if he’s using some sort of pre-arranged code-speak, or even just making “mistakes” in his transmissions that are sure to be noticed by his controllers, all for the purpose of letting it be known that They’re Looking Over my Shoulder as I Type This. [For a fascinating look at how that sort of thing worked in the context of the SOE — and by “fascinating” I mean I read it through in the course of a single weekend — I cannot recommend too highly Between Silk and Cyanide by Leo Marks, the SOE’s chief code-maker.] It’s entirely logical that the younger Bergdahl, who had already learned the local language from outright sympathy with the Afghans (actually, a commendable practice and one which ought to be encouraged if you’re proposing to have your military among the people for any prolonged period), would have been forbidden to communicate with his father in English. In other words, I strongly question whether Papa learned it to negotiate with his son’s new controllers; far more likely that he learned it in order to communicate with his son in the latter’s new language.
And after all of this, Dear Leader announces the swap in a Rose Garden presser? He has to know that the truth will come out. In fact, it’s already coming out. It will continue to come out. People who have their dead comrades’ names tattooed on their own flesh, comrades who died looking for someone now known to be a traitor, aren’t going to be scared off by some piece of paper with a promise of non-disclosure on it. People who left arms and legs on the field aren’t going to be frightened off by your stooges in plain-clothes. That’s something I wonder whether Dear Leader, for whom there exists nothing more talismanic than a faculty-lounge notice on the cork-board (and for whom nothing else — say for example, a lawful statute of Congress — carries more weight than something you’d find pinned to the board; that mindset is definitely a two-way street), fully understands. President: “But you signed a document where you promised you wouldn’t talk!!!” Soldier: “Fuck you, buddy. These men were my friends. And your traitor-boy killed them, just as much as if he pressed the detonator himself.” However sad it may be to contemplate it, our president will never understand the logic of the foregoing exchange. As consummately political as he is, Dear Leader has to know what’s coming.
That much said, by parading these people and making this kind of a fuss about, and that prominently, he’s bragging that he doesn’t care. He knows that most of the lamestream media will cover for him. He knows that the Paul Krugmans of the world will assure us it’s just some partisan witch-hunt that we sloped-browed mouth-breathing bitter gun-clingers out in fly-over country object to a deserter and a traitor being celebrated by the commander-in-chief in the White House (and you know that’s coming, Gentle Reader, don’t you?).
At this point Dear Leader’s cutting doughnuts in our front yard and throwing his empties out the window. [Update (06 Jun 14): And like some spotty-faced juvenile delinquent, when caught and dragged up before the judge (that’s us, Gentle Reader), he shows no contrition at all. None.]
[Update (04 Jun 14): And now come the reports of what sounds like efforts at collaboration between Bergdahl and the enemy. Over at PJ Tatler, via CNN, we have this: “Within days of his disappearance, says Buetow, teams monitoring radio chatter and cell phone communications intercepted an alarming message: The American is in Yahya Khel (a village two miles away). He’s looking for someone who speaks English so he can talk to the Taliban.” I’m not sure what to make of that statement. If he had been learning the local language, why would he have been looking for someone who spoke English, unless he hadn’t learned much of the language? Or maybe he felt his language abilities inadequate? Who knows? For that matter, the squad mate quoted heard his own translator’s version of what someone else had said, and we have no idea to what extent that other person was paraphrasing what Bergdahl was saying. So it’s still a mite early to tell for sure. But one thing seems pretty plain: For whatever reason, and with whatever intent in his heart, Bowe Bergdahl was running towards the Taliban as much as he was running away from the U.S. Army. And that smells really bad.]
[Update (06 Jun 14): Now a private company, run by a former senior CIA operative and doing business as a defense contractor, produces what it alleges to be reports submitted to CENTCOM as far back as 2010. I say “alleges” because the company’s owner was indicted for lying to Congress in connection with the Iran-Contra balls-up; he was pardoned by Bush 41 while on trial. Just like I’m not willing to give Eric “My People” Holder a pass for blatantly lying to this Congress, so I’m not willing to ignore this other fellow’s having done the same thing.
So I very much take this with a grain of salt. This guy is a liar (otherwise he’d have gone to verdict to clear his name) but that’s not to say he’s incompetent (as is Holder), and the reports were in fact submitted. They’re genuine in the sense that they really were prepared and really do exist. The general commanding USCENTCOM back then denies having seen these particular reports, although I have a hard time imagining that being true, given their explosive content.
Because, you see, these reports show Bowe Bergdahl having converted to the Religion of Peace, announceinghimself as a mujahid, and running about the place with his very own AK-47. I’m being asked to accept the bald statement that reports of active collaboration with the enemy by a U.S. service member known to have deserted a combat post, for whom we were then still actively searching, aren’t significant enough to make it to the four-star’s desk? Pull the other one, boys; it’s got bells on it. On the other hand, the reports also show an escape attempt upon capture after which he was locked up in a metal cage. So the contents of the reports are not unambiguous, and even if they are spot-on accurate, you still have to ask the question whether it’s fully knowing collaboration or just Stockholm Syndrome making its appearance. Patricia Hearst, anyone? Perhaps Hearst isn’t the best cautionary example, because irrespective of why she went over, go over she very much did, to the extent of participating in armed bank robbery with her “captors.”
No matter what the correct interpretation and weight to place on these reports, you have to ask yourself why Dear Leader’s people hadn’t reviewed every last page of this and the rest of the available information before turning over the five most dangerous Taliban in our possession, the worst of the worst. And then trumpeting his decision to the world. And then gloating over it, as if all he had done was “mak[e] sure we get back a young man to his parents.”]