The Taliban is once again playing a cynical game with the fate of Idaho U.S. Army soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
As a carrot for broad negotiations to end the Afghanistan war, at least for U.S. forces, the terrorist group has proposed an exchange of Bergdahl for five of its most dangerous leaders from the Guantanamo Bay prison. The Taliban floated the same idea a year ago and, according to some accounts, the U.S. and the group have talked off and on about a deal going back at least two years.
But he remains in the hands of his captors, who are apparently taking relatively good care of their prize; Bergdahl is their only known captive.
Bergdahl’s family and community have been heartened by the latest proposal. His father, Robert Bergdahl, has learned a little Pashto, the native language of the area where his son is being held captive, the better to reach out to those holding his son, and ask for his release.
When word of renewed talks for Bergdahl’s freedom resurfaced last week, the four members of Idaho’s all-Republican congressional delegation put out a statement supporting the family, and noting their ongoing efforts to keep Bergdahl’s status a high-profile issue with the Obama administration.
Sen. James Risch is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which would be briefed on any developments regarding Bergdahl. A spokesman was close-mouthed Monday, and understandably so. Talks are “sensitive” and “fragile,” if there are any negotiations at all.
But Risch has warned against the release of any Guantanamo prisoners in the past, and committee Chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has opposed an asymmetric exchange of a single American for five Taliban prisoners. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is unenthused, as is former POW Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
President Barack Obama cannot bring Guantanamo prisoners to the United States without congressional authorization, but can transfer them to other countries, which was the plan last year in the proposed swap. The administration badly wants to get peace talks going with the Taliban if Afghan President Hamid Karzai can be dragged to the table, but how much more abuse does Obama want to take by authorizing a deal for Bergdahl that risks putting some of the Taliban’s worst members back on the front lines against U.S., allied and Afghan troops?
Some of the 4,000 supporters who rallied last week to support the Bergdahls want Bowe home, and every last U.S. serviceman or woman with him. After 12 years, and no al-Qaida-sponsored follow-ups to the 9/11 attacks, the Americans who even notice the war in Afghanistan feel much the same way.
The Taliban say an exchange for Bergdahl would “build bridges of confidence to go forward.” Leap of faith is more like it. But if hard-line Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is willing to swap a single Israeli soldier for 1,000 Palestinians, as he did two years ago, maybe this is a bridge worth crossing.
Let the end of the war start with Bergdahl’s freedom.