The Bergdahl ransom

It’s tough to remember things that happened six scandals ago in the Obama era, but you may recall there was quite a brouhaha around the deal made by President Obama to secure the release of captive Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who departed his post when he felt the institution no longer had anything to offer him, and wound up enjoying the questionable hospitality of the Taliban.  Basically, nothing Obama initially said about the Bergdahl deal turned out be, you know, true, and what he did might not have been entirely legal.  (An old-fashioned notion, to be sure, but you kids may be surprised to learn there was a time when Americans expected the President to obey the law.  If you were born after 1998, you’ll have to ask your parents about it.)  The whole thing was supposed to be a poll-boosting photo op for the President, but it turned into a wild political melee, ending in a cloud of lingering doubts and unanswered questions.

One of those questions was how long it would take for the five Taliban big shots Obama traded for Bergdahl to make their way back into battle against America and her allies.  According to Senator John McCain, that already happened, along with some 30 other released Gitmo detainees who resumed their careers as illegal combatants.  I guess we won’t know for sure until some of those frequent Guantanamo guests return and get their customer-loyalty reward cards punched, assuming Obama hasn’t shut Club Gitmo completely by then.  He’s got a pen and a phone, you know.

Another lingering question is whether the Obama Administration paid a ransom for Bergdahl.  That would effectively mean cutting a check, payable by the American taxpayer, to al-Qaeda.  The gang that took Bergdahl wasn’t actually the Taliban, but rather the Haqqani Network, an outfit with ties to bin Laden’s crew dating back to their salad days in the mujahadeen.  That was the outfit backed by American strategists in the time when Russia was the bad guy.  I mean, the previous time when Russia was the bad guy.

Those familiar with the Haqqani Network thought it unlikely they would surrender Bergdahl for any number of Taliban honchos, unless there was also some cash involved in the deal.  This turned into one of those details Team Obama didn’t think the American public should know about during the tough news cycle after the Bergdahl story broke, but Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) just announced he has sources that tell him a ransom was paid.  You’ll never guess what happened to it.  Wait, let me give you a hint: this is Barack Obama we’re talking about.

From The Hill:

In a Nov. 5 letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Hunter wrote it has been brought to my attention that a payment was made to an Afghan intermediary who ‘disappeared’ with the money and failed to facilitate Bergdahl’s release in return.”

Hunter said “according to sources” that the payment was made between January and February 2014 through Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), whose activities are mostly classified. 

Hunter said he recognized the “reluctance to describe the payment as a ransom” and that the allegations of an unsuccessful payment is supported by JSOC’s pursuit of at least two lines of effort to get Bergdahl back ??? through a military rescue operation and payment to his suspected captors and terrorist group the Haqqani Network.

Hunter did not identify his sources.

In his letter, Hunter asked Hagel to “immediately inquire with JSOC to determine the specific order of events” and to “confirm whether a payment of any kind was considered and/or paid.”

He also asked Hagel to confirm whether the same consideration, for others in captivity, is still being given by JSOC.

As The Hill observes, not only would a ransom payment for Bergdahl contradict longstanding U.S. policy, it would also rest uneasily with the family of reporter James Foley, who was beheaded by ISIS after their demand for a ransom was not met.  Administration officials had advised the Foleys not to try paying the ransom.

The circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s disappearance and capture are still under investigation by the Army.  We couldn’t very well have the final report coming out when Americans might have run off and done something crazy at the ballot box, so it had to wait until after the elections.  Ironically, Americans ran off and did something crazy at the ballot box anyway, so the previously incurious Senate Armed Services Committee is about to become headed by… Senator John McCain.  There might just be a whole lot of investigating going on soon.

Update: I was remiss for not noticing that The Hill rather strongly understated how the Foley family was treated:

To quote the article directly, the Bergdahl ransom “could also contradict the advice U.S. officials gave to the family of slain journalist James Foley to not pay ransom to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants who later beheaded him.”

In fact, the Foley family said they were threatened with prosecution if they paid a ransom, and several officials have confirmed the threat was made, precisely as they described it.  “It was an utterly idiotic thing to do that came across as if they had the compassion of an anvil,” ABC News quoted one of the confirming officials as saying.