The hullabaloo around the exchange of one U.S. serviceman for five Taliban prisoners kept for years at the Guantanamo prison on the island of Cuba has grown beyond the point of a tremendous echo that is so loud it swallows itself.
But lost in the numerous condemnations and defenses of the Obama Administration’s actions and the rescued soldier’s character is the fact that the Obama Administration may have learned lessons from its past failures to follow due process in the so-called war on terrorism. In the past, Obama’s operatives saw no problem shredding the concept of due process by using drones to assassinate an American citizen suspected of terrorist activities. Obama’s soldiers also failed to follow the law when they killed Osama bin Laden instead of taking him into custody and putting him on trial. If we consider gathering evidence as part of due process, then the National Security Agency (NSA) has been denying millions of Americans due process since Obama took the oath of office (and before that, of course!).
Instead of condemning Bowe Bergdahl for desertion by letting the Taliban keep him, the Obama Administration assumed he was innocent and did what it was supposed to do—get our soldiers out. With Bergdahl home, the Army can now decide whether there is enough evidence of desertion to order a court martial trial.
Those who are angry that we made the deal because Bergdahl is or may be a deserter are just wrong. Following the law is always a good thing and we should all be delighted that Obama Administration followed the legal concept of due process in deciding to make the deal.
Whether Obama broke the law by not telling Congress of the completion of the deal ahead of time is another story. A Wall Street Journal editorial said Obama was within his rights not to tell Congress. A New York Times editorial disagreed. I tend to side with the Times’ view, but understand the President’s frustration with Congress at this point. The Republicans have been so quick to put barriers in the way of conducting the nation’s business, I can see why the Administration was tempted to interpret its past discussions with Congress on this exchange of prisoners to have been sufficient. After all, it wasn’t as if we were bombing Cambodia or selling arms to Iran.
Those who are angry with the president for not telling Congress are thus making a mountain out of a mole hill.
The third objection to the trade—that we gave away too much for too little—is absolutely bogus. As David Brooks and distinguished anti-death penalty attorney, Marshall Dayan, have both pointed out, Israel has been known to trade hundreds of Palestinians for one Israeli soldier.
The implication behind saying “we gave away too much” is that each soldier is an asset and not a human being who is part of our community. It’s akin to saying that a favorite baseball team gave us too much when it traded five players for one. It’s all about what you get and what you give up, even if an American life is at stake. I reject this attitude.
But even if we accept this anti-humanistic view and judge the situation with a cold, business-like attitude, the statement “we gave away too much” is ridiculous. The five Taliban fighters exchanged for Bergdahl had all been incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay for years. If we are to extrapolate from past reports about Guantanamo, these men have probably undergone the most punitive and harsh kind of treatment. They may all be useless in battle, mere shells of what they had once been. They could all be broken men by now. If we assume that Bergdahl went through similar horrors, then the trade could result in one nothing for five nothings.
Those who are saying the president gave away too much are therefore just wrong.
But as with everything good and bad that happens in the Unites States since January 2009, the far right turns it into a failure that shows Obama’s incompetence and his so-called “socialist” predilections. If anything, the Bergdahl controversy demonstrates that large numbers of Americans have a double standard for presidents—a higher one for African-Americans.
For years, I saw this ugly trend play out on a local level in Pittsburgh several times: Hire an African-American for a high visibility position with a large community organization and then start attacking everything he or she does and hold the person to a much higher standard than would be required of a “good old boy.” In one case, after firing a prominent African-American from a critical position in public education, a board of education of a local school district hired a white who proposed a very similar program of school cuts and closures that the African-American had. Of course, the white was praised and the plan implemented.
Obama has clearly been a disappointment as president, but his administration does not deserve the pile-on it has gotten for many things, including health reform, Benghazi, the Ukraine and Bergdahl. Let’s blame him for his real mistakes like obtrusive NSA spying and caving into the Republicans about the sequester, but not for his successes or for doing things that every other president would have done in the same situation.