Saturday, May 31, 2014

Who will tell Alan Gross?

A group of Taliban prisoners – five, ironically – was released in a swap for a single American soldier, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, after nearly five years in captivity.

Sgt. Bergdahl was captured six months before USAID contractor Alan Gross was arrested in Cuba.

The Taliban officials include a former provincial governor, deputy defense minister, and intelligence chief.

President Obama said that he has received assurances from Qatari government, which acted as intermediary, that it will take “measures to protect our national security.” According to numerous press reports, that includes restrictions on the activity and movement of the Taliban members when they are transferred to Qatar.  

President Obama, as the Times explains, defied Congress in effectuating this swap by apparently ignoring parts of a statute that he rejected as unconstitutional infringements on his foreign policy authority when he signed it into law.

Senator McCain welcomed Sgt. Bergdahl’s release, did not criticize the President, and wants assurances that “these vicious and violent Taliban extremists never return to the fight against the United States and our partners or engage in any activities that can threaten the prospects for peace and security in Afghanistan.” (A note on Senator McCain’s activities regarding American prisoners in Egypt is here.)

Cuba offers to negotiate for Mr. Gross’ release on a “reciprocal humanitarian basis” which many take to mean the release of the remaining three Cuban intelligence officers in U.S. jails, who have served 15 years. Washington has declined such a negotiation, and USAID and the State Department don’t like the idea of putting a USAID operative and intelligence officers in the same mix, as if they are not on the same moral plane. Of course, in every prisoner swap both governments dislike trading bad guys for good guys, but they suck it up to get their good guys back.

In a written statement, President Obama noted “America’s unwavering commitment to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield.” Appearing at the White House with Sgt. Bergdahl’s parents, the President said that he remains “committed to obtain the release of Americans unjustly detained abroad.” Whoever informs Mr. Gross about today’s news should tell him about that statement too.

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