June 3, 2014

“White House Overrode Internal Objections To Taliban Prisoner Release”

Quick point of correction in re: the title and much of the reporting on this story, and one that is crucial. Bergdahl was being held not by the Taliban, but by the Haqqani Network, placed on the terror watch list by Hillary Clinton. This was not a POW swap, therefore, no matter how they try to pretend otherwise. This was a deal made with identified terrorists for a deserter.


To pull off the prisoner swap of five Taliban leaders for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the White House overrode an existing interagency process charged with debating the transfer of Guantanamo Bay prisoners and dismissed long-standing Pentagon and intelligence community concerns based on Top Secret intelligence about the dangers of releasing the five men, sources familiar with the debate tell TIME.

National Security Council officials at the White House decline to describe the work of the ad hoc process they established to trade the prisoners, or to detail the measures they have taken to limit the threat the Taliban officials may pose. They say consensus on the plan was reached by the top officials of Obama’s national security team, including representatives from the Pentagon, State Department, intelligence community and Joint Chiefs of Staff. “These releases were worked extensively through deputies and principals,” says National Security Counsel Deputy for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes. “There was not a dissent on moving forward with this plan.”

But officials in the Pentagon and intelligence communities had successfully fought off release of the five men in the past, officials tell Time. “This was out of the norm,” says one official familiar with the debate over the dangers of releasing the five Taliban officials. “There was never the conversation.” Obama’s move was an ultimate victory for those at the White House and the State Department who had previously argued the military should “suck it up and salute,” says the official familiar with the debate.

Obama has broad authority under Article II of the U.S. Constitution to order the prisoner exchange as commander in chief of America’s armed forces. The lengths to which he went to bring it about show how determined he was to resolve the lingering issue of America’s only prisoner of war in Afghanistan.

The Obama administration first considered whether the five men were safe to release at the very start of his term as president. In January 2009, Obama ordered a Justice Department-led review of all 240 Guantanamo Bay detainees. The five Taliban leaders were found to be high risks to return to the fight against Americans, confirming Bush administration assessments of the threat they posed, according to officials familiar with the group’s findings. “These five are clearly bad dudes,” says a second source familiar with the debate over their release, adding that the detainees are likely to return to the fight.

Thereafter, the administration established a regular process for handling the release of detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Releases were considered and approved through the “Guantanamo Transfer Working Group” which comprised officials from the State Department, the Pentagon, the intelligence community, the Department of Homeland Security and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Over time, 82 detainees have been released by the Obama administration, according to the latest report to Congress by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The question of the release of the five Taliban leaders was a recurrent subject of debate in the administration and was a key element of the behind the scenes effort by the State Department and the White House to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban. The transfer of the five was discussed as a possible confidence-building measure to pave the way for a deal. The debates over their release were contentious, officials familiar with them say.

Those opposing release had the benefit of secret and top secret intelligence showing that the five men were a continuing threat, officials familiar with the debate tell TIME. But in the push from the White House and the State Department to clear the men, opponents to release found themselves under constant pressure to prove that the five were dangerous. “It was a heavy burden to show they were bad,” says the second source familiar with the debate.

Opponents of release say absent a peace deal with the Taliban, the release makes no sense. “When our military is engaged in combat operations you’re always going to err on the side of caution,” says the first official familiar with the debate. “Just conceptually, how much sense does it make to release your enemy when you’re still at war with him?”

During previous debates, opponents were aided by a law passed by Congress during Obama’s first term that required the administration to certify to a set of onerous conditions that the administration said were nearly impossible to meet. That changed thanks to the efforts of Sen. Carl Levin, who managed to weaken certification standards in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act to allow the Secretary of Defense to release Guantanamo prisoners when it is in the national security interests of the United States.

That change made it easier for the President to exert his commander in chief powers in effecting the prisoner swap. So far the White House has said little about the measures they negotiated to assure the men would not be a threat upon release. Administration officials have said the men will remain in Qatar under a one-year travel ban. Under existing procedure, released detainees are monitored by the CIA station chief in the country where they reside. On Tuesday, Obama said he had confidence the U.S. would “be in a position to go after them if in fact they are engaging in activities that threaten our defense.”

But Republicans now question whether the president has gone too far, even under the new law, which still requires 30 days’ notice ahead of a release from Guantanamo Bay. Administration officials told members of the Senate armed services and intelligence committees “repeatedly they weren’t going to [release the five men] and they would be notified and consulted if they did,” says a GOP Senate aide. The committees were only notified after the fact.

At least one member of the Senate did have advance notice. “We were notified of the plan to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s release on Friday,” said Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. A spokesman for Republican House Speaker John Boehner, however, told TIME that there was no advance notice given to the leader of the House. Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein was not informed in advance, either, and on Tuesday Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken called her to apologize for the oversight, she told reporters.


Even many of those who opposed the release in the past accept the president has the power in conflicts to effect a prisoner swap. “We have done prisoner swaps in the past,” says the first official familiar with the debate over the release. But, the official added, “That’s been in international armed conflict where you have a state with which you can negotiate and you can say this guy will not go back to the fight.”

The spin seems to be to take our eyes off the substantial nature of swap and place it into the political realm by focusing on Obama’s authority to make the call, both under CinC authority and Geneva Convention protocols.

Don’t let yourselves fall into the trap:  we negotiated with terrorists and released those who are terrorists back into the fight against the west.  And by “we,” I mean our imperial President and his increasingly lawless sycophants.  He weakened our nation, our military, our diplomatic standing in the world, and every other thing he could hope to weaken with this “POW swap.”  And he did it to bring home a kid who appears to be virulently anti-American and who deserted his post.

So it’s fair to ask, as I did the other day, if this man has ever really been on “our” side — and now, further, if this whole swap wasn’t some manufactured excuse to release high-ranking Taliban captured and held in Gitmo. Which should further fuel conspiracy theories over Benghazi, where some have speculated the intent, botched, naturally, was to have Ambassador Stevens kidnapped and then traded back for high-level Taliban terrorists and terrorist liaisons.

I know what I believe.  Draw your own conclusions.

(h/t sdferr)

Posted by Jeff G. @ 3:38pm

Comments (46)

  1. ….[And] he did it to bring home a kid who appears to be virulently anti-American and who deserted his post.

    – If the point here is that Progressives are America loathing assholes that would defend any traitor and hurt the US, and particularly the military in any way they can, its settled science, and their dear Marxist leader IWonPenphone is the king of the back stabbers.

  2. *** In the U.S. Army you are cut down for being honest . . . but if you are a conceited brown-nosing shit bag you will be allowed to do whatever you want, and you will be handed your higher rank. . . The system is wrong,” Bergdahl wrote. ***

    Surely little did WithHonorAndDistinctionBowe realize when he wrote those words that his very own case could be held up to prove them so.

  3. But but but . . . Euphoria expected!

    For how not?

    PrincessClownDisaster couldn’t possibly imagine.

  4. I’ve concluded something much shallower than that. I suspect our feckless fratboy of a POTUS saw one too many episodes of Homeland. I further suspect he thought he’d get the same ratings and accolades for this stunt.

  5. sdferr, They did not expect this shit storm.

  6. Indeed not charles, indeed they didn’t.

  7. “It was a heavy burden to show they were bad,” says the second source familiar with the debate.

    Was the White House not accepting the proof as proof? They minimized everything as “no big deal”?

    Wouldn’t surprise me.

  8. Clearly the Talib Five are innocent soft-serve ice cream purveyors who had been maliciously portrayed as murderers by the loathsome Bush Administration, themselves acknowledged world-wide as blood-besotted warmongers.

  9. Thomas Jocelyn spills on the soft-serve ice creamers.

  10. Chuck Todd is reporting that the WH thought the reaction to this deal would be “euphoric”

    Of course it was. With our enemies in Afghanistan.

    Mad Magazine manages to do an image that outdoes all the media.

  11. The only thing you left out Jeff was that Obama and the other faculty lounge pseudo-radical wannabe revolutionaries he’s surrounded by never believed we should have been in Afghanistan in the first place, contrary to what they’ve said in public, and now that Bin Laden is dead, there only goal is to restore the status quo ante as quickly as they can.

    Which of course meant waiting until after 2012.

  12. This may be a silly question, but I don’t recall us, the US, exchanging high ranking killers for a deserter/POW/wiener before. Have we?

  13. Bergdahl pere, reports M. Levin (crediting GatewayPundit), joined Code Pink to protest drone attacks. Ugh. And perfect.

  14. I wander what Taliban Dad thinks about the domestic drone policy set to go into actin soon?

  15. Pro-Bergdahl exchange-deal Democrat Senators clam up. Harry Reid still happy.

  16. One good place to start is where Brad Thor does: forget about the Taliban, they weren’t holding Bowe. He was a captive of the Haqqanis, which Thor nicely describes as a mixture of terrorism and mafia, “80% Sopranos and 20% Al Qaeda.” He then asks an important question: what did the Haqqanis get for Bergdahl? That’s exactly right, because four of the Guantanamo terrorists were indeed Taliban, and hence low priority for the Haqqanis. So?

    So we need to ask how much money the Haqqanis got, or how many weapons, or maybe diamonds, I don’t know. We probably arranged for the payment–it’s illegal to do it directly, I believe (although CIA has done it, as has the military, usually under the guise of “providing information”)–and the Qataris may have thought it was a good investment. But something of value had to be given to the Haqqanis. I don’t believe they turned over Bowe as a favor to the Taliban.


    As we sort out the real facts from the abundant background noise, we will discover several disconcerting things: first, that control over the efforts to recover Bowe often shifted between US government agencies. Second, that it is misleading to say that the negotiations were underway for five years; the final push came in the last six weeks, when the Qataris told the U.S. that a deal was now possible. Third, that the list of Guantanamo terrorists to be “paid” shifted continuously. And fourth, who were the key intermediaries? I suspect we will find some relatively unknown academics involved in the talks. It wasn’t entirely the work of Qatari diplomats and U.S. officials by any means.

    Finally, a mystery: why the sudden urgency at the end, when talks had often collapsed in the past? It’s hard to believe that the administration thought Bowe’s health was so bad he might drop dead, although it’s a possibility. But it’s more likely that we’re missing a key element, something separate from the Bergdahl saga.

  17. I can only hope ‘our guys’ placed Matrix-like bugs in these five terrorists, and at some point, we can track them to secluded camps full of their compatriots. And target them from orbit.

  18. With a years stay in Qatar at least they won’t show up in some attack on our soldiers till well after the 2014 election is over, so there is that one nice thing to cheer.

    sarc/> just in case.

  19. Wow. That Brad Thor has way more info than anything else I’ve seen and raises way more questions that could show the Oministration to be worse than feckless, naive, or inept.

  20. Off topic but related: Hey Jeff.. You know who we havent heard from in a fekkin long time? The Jihadis in the Bunker… I wonder what theyre up to? You just know there are some stunned Taliban guys staring at each other going. “Seriously? They said yes?? WTF?? As Allah is my witness, brother, I was just fucking with the infidels when they asked what we’d take for that weird kid.. and I was like “Give us all our top guys,, then maybe..” and they said yes.. Just like that.. Yes..No shit..

    Maybe theyre not in Falluhjah anymore.. but I wish some talented writer would bring them back to life to celebrate the wind down…

  21. First jihadi: “Was that an IED going off?”

    Second jihadi: “No, I read what the infidels gave up for their deserter and my head exploded.”

  22. First jihadi: “Was that an IED going off?”

    Second jihadi: “No my brother, that was Col. Peters losing it.”

  23. According to the Thor op-ed geoff linked, the urgency need to do a deal started about six weeks ago. Isn’t that about the time Benghazi showed up in the news again?

  24. Ollie North seems to think the Haqqanis got $5-6 million in ransom. See Breitbart for the story.

  25. Imagine what they’d get for a real American.

    God help us.

  26. A quoteable notable:

    “A criminal and his party faithful had succeeded in usurping the power of the . . . state. In consequence of such party rule, law and injustice became intertwined, and often indistinguishable. The legal system itself, which continued, in some respects, still to function in an everyday context, had, at the same time, become a force destructive of law and right. This rule of lies served a system of fear, in which no one could trust another, since each person had somehow to shield himself behind a mask of lies, which, on the one hand, functioned as self defense, while, in equal measure, it served to consolidate the power of evil.”

  27. elissa of the pontifications has said, in not so many words, that to clear the way for that geriatric saggy-titted chelsea-spawning hillary whore they’re going to have to tear food stamp off his pitiful lil oval office pedestal that he sucked so so much soros dick to earn

    i mean c’mon

    time magazine taking a hard look at the rancid cunt american president they did so much to elect?

    this is too fucking weird

    i’m going to make dumplings

  28. i have some guiozo (sp?) sauce i need to use up

  29. State Department feels this story is not worthy of the talents of their redhead so they send in the blonde.

  30. elissa of the pontifications is a fucking idiot then, if she thinks that the Democratic path to victory in 2016 is to tear d0wn the Democrat currently residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

    Unless, by “tear down” we mean “didn’t go far enough.” But if that’s the case, the Time piece doesn’t support that particular narrative.

    More likely, the case is that this pig is so gawdawful effin ugly that not even the media can put lipstick on it.

  31. no she’s not

    take it back

    she’s perspicacious like a pickle

  32. do NOT make me crawl up on your lap and smack your face wif my glove Mr. Ernst

    for one thing I find such a needlessly dramatic course of action to be distasteful

    for another thing i made dumplings

  33. – The name suggests mafioso are involved, like maybe a contracted non-kill hit job?

    – Curiouser and curiouser.

  34. Second to last ¶
    Nailed it.

  35. – Obama must be sitting in his oval orifice trying to figure out which one of his lackeys totally jumped the shark on this exchange thing, which is spiraling completely out of control with each passing hour.

    – If you sit quietly and listen you can smell Benghazi all over again.

  36. Actually Obama is thinking, “So this is what the underside of a bus looks like.”

  37. BHO has top. men. trying their damnedest to come up with a new angle to counter his terrorists-for-trash perpswap debacle. However, seems the RAAAAACISTS! woodpile is lacking anything fresh.

    All they can do now is thrash the Palinpicker..


  38. baracky’s chickens are coming home to roost

  39. poor little bowe must be so lost and confused about what’s happening

    not speaking english and all

  40. Euphoria delivers!

  41. Administration bypassed intel community to pursue Bergdahl trade, shelved ransom plan