Defense & National Security

Pentagon sources: Obama nixed Bergdahl rescue because he wanted a prisoner swap

Pentagon sources: Obama nixed Bergdahl rescue because he wanted a prisoner swap

From the UK Daily Mailfuel for the theory that Obama’s long game in the disastrous Bergdahl prisoner swap was an overture toward emptying out Guantanamo Bay, so he could list closing it down as a “legacy” achievement:

The Obama administration passed up multiple opportunities to rescue Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl because the president was dead-set on finding a reason to begin emptying Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to a Pentagon official.

‘JSOC went to the White House with several specific rescue-op scenarios,’ the official with knowledge of interagency negotiations underway since at least November 2013 told MailOnline, referring to the Joint Special Operations Command. ‘But no one ever got traction.’

‘What we learned along the way was that the president wanted a diplomatic scenario that would establish a precedent for repatriating detainees from Gitmo,’ he said.

The official said a State Department liaison described the lay of the land to him in February, shortly after the Taliban sent the U.S. government a month-old video of Bergdahl in January, looking sickly and haggard, in an effort to create a sense of urgency about his health and effect a quick prisoner trade.

‘He basically told me that no matter what JSOC put on the table, it was never going to fly because the president isn’t going to leave office with Gitmo intact, and this was the best opportunity to see that through.’

While military commanders wavered on the value of rescue plans, a second Pentagon source said Wednesday, they were advised by their chain of command that the White House was pushing hard for a prisoner swap, over the objections of the intelligence community.

That official told MailOnline that at least two separate intelligence agencies cautioned against taking the January video at face value.

And it seems like nobody is, because the White House has moved from “we had to break the law and move fast because Bergdahl was sick” to “we had to break the law because the Taliban told us to” as the official story.

Broadly speaking, it’s not automatically unreasonable to conclude that rescue operations were unlikely to succeed, so a prisoner trade was the better course of action.  But that’s a bit different from the picture painted by the Daily Mail’s Pentagon source, who says Obama deliberately set all this up to pave the way for his long-promised shuttering of Club Gitmo.  That seems like kind of a big deal, especially when considering the horrendous danger posed by the five Taliban leaders he released.

And if closing Gitmo was the President’s long-term strategy, it appears to have backfired, according to an Associated Press report:

President Barack Obama’s goal of closing the Guantanamo Bay prison is facing re-energized opposition from Republicans and increased questioning from fellow Democrats amid widespread anger in Congress over the swap of five Taliban detainees for the last American prisoner of war in Afghanistan.

It’s not really just Republicans, though:

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper met with a few senators earlier Wednesday, a day after Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, and senior adviser John Podesta struggled to soothe tempers among Senate Democrats. Some senators received personal apologies for not being consulted before the exchange.

A Clapper spokesman later released a statement saying the intelligence chief’s support for the operation was influenced by the upcoming drawdown of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, which would allow fewer military resources to be dedicated to Bergdahl’s rescue.

Although Republicans seem much more concerned about the national-security ramifications of passing out Get Out of Jail Free cards to terrorists than Democrats:

The disagreement is prompting some lawmakers to try to tighten rules on transferring prisoners from Guantanamo.

“This is one of the reasons why a number of us have been so strongly opposed to the release of individuals there,” Chambliss said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said senators would try to keep the jail open until a plan emerges that “would not result in the prisoners being released back on the battlefield.”

Even before the Bergdahl deal, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, pledged to fight to keep Guantanamo open and leave the 154 detainees incarcerated. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., prevailed in adding a one-year freeze to the defense bill on transferring detainees from Guantanamo to Yemen, the home base of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Senator Graham actually went so far as muse “there will be people on our side calling for [Obama's] impeachment” if the President tries to uncork a steady flow of prisoners out of Guantanamo Bay now.  That will also grow more difficult if the Taliban Five do indeed become a battlefield presence again soon, an outcome both the Taliban and their victims seem to expect.

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