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Cole writes: "The GOP talking points in response to the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in a trade for five former officials of the 1990s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Taliban) focused on a few basic premises. !. You don’t negotiate with terrorists; 2. such a swap would encourage terrorists to capture Americans; 3. these officials are the worst the worst."

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. (photo: US Army)
Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. (photo: US Army)

Dear GOP: The US Has Negotiated With Terrorists and Amnestied Them All Through History

By Juan Cole, Informed Comment

02 June 14


he GOP talking points in response to the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in a trade for five former officials of the 1990s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Taliban) focused on a few basic premises. !. You don’t negotiate with terrorists; 2. such a swap would encourage terrorists to capture Americans; 3. these officials are the worst the worst.

Tagging movements as “terrorist” and then refusing to deal with them is frankly stupid. The Taliban in Afghanistan are not a small terrorist group like, say, the Italian Red Brigades of the 1970s and 1980s. They are guerrillas belonging to a movement that at one point had captured the state and run it. The Taliban are now a guerrilla group, holding territory.

The US has all along negotiated with the guerrillas it has fought on the battlefield. William Howard Taft (later president) in the Philippines was all for negotiation with Filipinos who rejected US rule, and he created “attraction zones” to win them over. At the conclusion of the Aguinaldo resistance to US occupation in 1902, Teddy Roosevelt declared a general amnesty for the resistance fighters. These resistance fighters had committed some atrocities, including on captured US troops, but Roosevelt just let them walk free. Talk softly, carry a big stick, and let all the terrorists go, seems to have been his motto.

The US negotiated with the Viet Cong in South Vietnam, who were very much analogous to the Taliban and whom the US would now certainly term “terrorists.” In 1973, the US used intermediaries to negotiate with the Viet Cong for release of captured US soldiers at Loc Ninh. Americans on the political right made a huge issue about 1300 US soldiers never having been released by the Viet Cong (only about 400 were), and the shame that these men were left on the battlefield by the Nixon and Ford administrations. Conservatives seem to want to have it both ways. If you negotiate the release of US captives with the enemy you are “negotiating with terrorists.” If you don’t, then you have left soldiers behind on the battlefield. The fact is that the only way to have freed them was to have offered something for them in detailed negotiations. As for the Viet Cong “terrorists,” many of them are in government now and the US has cordial relations with them.

In the 1980s radical Shiites in Lebanon took American hostages. In order to free them, the Reagan administration not only negotiated with Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini but actually stole T.O.W. anti-aircraft munitions from Pentagon warehouses and shipped them to Tehran, receiving the money for them in black bank accounts and sending it to right wing death squads in Nicaragua. Khomeini and his government were listed as terrorists by the State Department at the time, and selling weapons to Iran was highly illegal. Not only that, but the US was allied with Iraq at the time, so Reagan screwed over Baghdad this way. Reagan did it, in part to free US hostages in Lebanon (Iran put pressure on its clients for their release).

As for encouraging groups to take US hostages, if the GOP really is so worried about this outcome they should stop putting the idea in the minds of terrorists by trumpeting it all over the news media. There was no rash of hostage-taking of Americans after Reagan bribed Iran to have them released, so the expectation is ahistorical.

The Israelis did a prisoner swap, at 1000 to one, for Gilad Shalit, and it hasn’t caused more Israelis to be captured. Why do right wing Americans only hold up Israel as a model when it acts unwisely, rather than when it (as it often does) acts pragmatically?

In fact, groups like the Taliban are always trying to take US personnel captive. Every day all day. This agreement changes nothing. The reason they only had one American in captivity was not the US policy of not negotiating. It is because guerrilla groups find it difficult to kidnap people from hardened bases and other such relatively secure facilities.

Finally, as for the 5 Taliban officials being the worst of the worst, that is probably true. However, there are other worst of the worst out there– big Afghan warlords of the 1990s with massive amounts of blood on their hands– whom the US has left alone to operate freely in Afghanistan. Gen. Rashid Dostam was even a vice presidential candidate, and Abu Sayyaf serves in parliament. Look them up. US politicians appear not so interested in who committed massacres but in whether they are presently cooperative with the Karzai government. your social media marketing partner


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+75 # 2014-06-02 13:45
The GOP would object if they DIDN'T negotiate. Maybe even louder. They are contrarians, on each and every level. We have to stop "playing defense" against these guys.

But, Mr. Obama, why did it take 5 years to get this done??
+21 # unitedwestand 2014-06-02 16:53
It seems that of late President Obama has concluded that nothing will get done if he doesn't take these kinds of chances. Now that he doesn't have to worry about re-election, he might even get a chance to close down Guantanamo as he wanted to the day he stepped into office. Of course RWNJ have amnesia about that too, I've heard them complain that the Pres. didn't close it down as he promised, when it was the Republicans in Congress that refused to budget the funds to do so. An then, when a prison was chosen to house them, they complained that it would be too dangerous, and they were able to convince the people of that too, as though we haven't had and don't have dangerous criminals safely incarcerated now.
+53 # Anonymot 2014-06-02 15:18
There's a lot of comment about how damaged and fragile seargent Bergdahl is and he didn't even get waterboarded. So the 5 terrors we released must be in pretty rocky condition after 10 years in the cages complete with torture. While they were locked up we have multiplied their kind by the tens of thousands with our various wars and drones and missteps. So what is so terrible?

What has been left unsaid is, indeed, why this administration could not have done this before and why it finally all got worked out in a week.

Other than that, hot air vents like poor, old John McCain are to be ignored.
-39 # RLF 2014-06-03 04:46
I'm sorry but 5 terrorist leaders for one grunt seems like bad bargaining....a s usual for Obama.
-19 # HowardMH 2014-06-03 09:37
RLF you forgot to add the word "delusional" in front of grunt.

They are not only terrorist leaders, they are equivalent to our 4 Star Generals. We give up five 4 Star Generals for one Coo Coo Bird. Sooo, who are the stupid ones in this exchange??
+58 # Pickwicky 2014-06-02 16:20
Above comments asked why it took 5 years to get Bergdahl out. This was asked as if Obama was the only one who had anything to do with it. I'll bet the Taliban had a say, too.

While the Republicans are stamping their little feet about negotiating with terrorists, we should stop negotiating with Republicans, those silly little terrorists!
+28 # madams12 2014-06-02 16:33
For those readers who remember journalist Michael Hastings who 'suicided himself' last year, I highly recommend you read his comprehensive article about Sgt Bowe Bergdahl, his family and his unit in a lengthy article for ROLLING STONE, written in 2012. It is excellent and answers questions that are being asked today about this 'swap' because Hastings was prescient and wise in his coverage of this particular story. Rest in peace, Michael Hastings you are greatly missed.
+2 # torch and pitchfork 2014-06-03 12:00
thanks for the referral, excellent article to help with an informed discussion. Bergdahl had great parenting. The kid is someone I would be proud say represents how American's think of themselves--hon est and just.
+10 # EmilyCragg 2014-06-02 16:43
We have a layer of so-called "leaders" who cannot grab their butts with both hands, who are clueless about what leadership comprises: truth-promoting , cooperation-pro moting, principled, honorable men and women who have achieved some cosmic Wisdom in their day. ... But that's not what we the Amerikan people have >GOT< is it? So, our next problem is getting this entire stratum of leadership >gone< from their pillars and chairs. That's our next problem. Any ideas? They seem to have closed all lawful and legal loopholes, in anticipation of our disgust. EEWC
+23 # Pikewich 2014-06-02 16:46
How long does it take to realize you can not answer the GOP with logical deductive straight forward reasoning? Their whole purpose is to obfuscate and sew confusion and hatred.

What I find disturbing is that these idiots are in high places, and got there because half the country still votes for them.

Sounds like Bowe figured out a little late soldiering for the US means killing for corporate profit, and decided he wanted no part of it any longer.
+32 # fredboy 2014-06-02 17:13
The GOP is hilarious. Even their God, Ronald Reagan, sold weapons to Iran, a terrorist state.

If potential military recruits or any service personnel considering re-enlistment should ponder is the GOP statement that THEY WILL NOT NEGOTIATE FOR THEIR RELEASE IF CAPTURED. REPEAT, THEY WILL NOT SEEK YOUR RELEASE IF YOU ARE CAPTURED.

That is one hell of a pledge, and goes against all we are. It is disgraceful. And it is Republican.
+2 # 2014-06-02 17:43
You can't do GWB to classify Terrorist so easily, or USA is the Terrorist for attacking Iraq with no WMD's. Even USA God, Ronald Reagan, sold weapons to Iran, a terrorist state, and to Iraq they later classified terrorists for what they didn't have.

Mujaheddin one day Taliban the next al-Quaida what Tommy rot. When USSR opposed Mujaheddin USA opposed their Opposition as Terrorists. Now they reverse turn, likewise the Shah or Ayatollah

USA Is closer to Terrorists than any nation in history perhaps or as bad as Hitler, Polpot, Alexander, Caesar, etc etc...
-22 # whatdidimiss 2014-06-02 18:04
Given the murky circumstances under which Pfc. Bergdahl was obtained by the Taliban, the message the President is sending seems to be quite the opposite: even if you defect to the other side, we will sacrifice our national interest and certainly those of our putative allies (pro US Afghans) to get you back home again. I'm not sure I get it, although it's nice to have now-Sgt. Bergdahl on his way home to his folks.
+13 # kalpal 2014-06-03 04:11
How he wound up in Taliban hands may well be investigated fully in the near future. Your apparent position seems to be that if there is any doubt, he should have been left there to die. Considering past RW hypocrisy, were he left behind the administration would be accused of being traitorous. No matter which course is chosen, the RW will find fault with it. It makes me sad that America's RW is being fiscally backed by some very rich men whose family fortune came out of working for Stalin and who now want America to be ruled by a Stalin like dictator.
+6 # NickAnast 2014-06-03 07:47
Had Mitch Romney won the election in 2012, the GOP would be praising his bold and decisive action to win the freedom of an American hero.
+7 # DaveM 2014-06-02 17:52
I expect the Republicans want to take us back to the good old days, when we bought pretty much everything from our new friends, Germany and Japan.
+10 # Pickwicky 2014-06-02 19:06
DaveM--could have just said: "I expect the Republicans want to take us back."

Yeah--to the good old days of "W."
+10 # RMDC 2014-06-03 05:33
Thanks Juan for saying this so clearly -- "Tagging movements as “terrorist” and then refusing to deal with them is frankly stupid."

The Taliban are no where near close to being the "worst of the worse." If you want the "worst of the worse" then just take a look at someone like David Patraeus. He cut his teeth in the US terror campaign in El Salvador of the 1980s where 1/3 of the population was killed by death squads or tortured and terrorized into leaving the country. The US congress had to pass a special law exempting Salvadorans from immigration laws just so they would not be returned to Patraeus' death and torture camp.

Then Patraeus brought his same tactics to Iraq and Afghanistan. He's not alone. There are plenty of Pentagon officers who are just like him and follow the same terrorist practices.

If you add up the number of people murdered and tortured/terror ized by Patraeus and his group of "generals" the number runs about 20 million. These 5 Taliban are no where near that. They are really minor players on the terrorism scene.

Patraeus is loved by the GOP. And the Dems. He's their hero.
-7 # 2014-06-03 08:45
In spite of some of the comments made here, the Taliban is quite clearly a terrorist organization. Just consider their recent murderous attack on Malala Yousafzai for the "sin" of trying to go to school in Pakistan.

But President Obama was, as Cole points out, just doing what American presidents have done many times before. Unfortunately, some of us, myself included, do not think that negotiating with terrorists is a good idea -- it encourages more terrorism. President Obama has apparently again "evolved" on this issue since he has now broken yet another one of his campaign promises: in 2008 he said "I have never supported engagement with terrorists." Too bad for those of us who agreed with him in 2008.

And for those who claim that the President would also have been criticized if he did not negotiate, please note that the Army had stopped trying to rescue Bergdahl years ago and no one from the Republican Party or conservative circles had sounded a peep. That claim is debunked by the facts.

Lee Nason
New Bedford, Massachusetts
+1 # Radscal 2014-06-03 12:53
The Taliban took control of Afghanistan after years of bloody civil war. That war occurred in the power vacuum left after the Afghan government fell in the wake of USSR's retreat after the CIA program to draw USSR into invading Afghanistan succeeded.

They seized power through a combination of winning over the "hearts and minds" of the largest segment of the population, and being the most brutally successful in battle.

They certainly terrorized a good portion of the Afghan population, though they were inward looking and not involved in exporting terrorism.

BTW: the plan to arm, train and fund the Mujahideen, which caused all the above was implemented by President Jimmy Carter and NSA Brzezinski. Brzezinski is also the man who wrote the "Erurasian chessboard" plan to foment a coup on Ukraine.
0 # RMDC 2014-06-04 07:48
Radscal -- good to remind everyone of this history. In the 1990s when the USSR left Afghanistan, the Taliban were indeed a better choice for the people of Afghanistan than the warlords and drugslords that the US was supporting. The Taliban originally were opposed to al Qaeda because they were on the side of the warlords.

the Taliban are not hard to understand. they are nationalists who just want the world to leave their nation alone. they are also religious fundamentalists and do want to live in a theocratic state.
+6 # CAMUS1111 2014-06-03 11:07
Perhaps we should have left McCain behind--we would have been spared Palin at least
0 # RMDC 2014-06-04 07:49
Now that is a good idea. I wonder if we can send him back to prison somewhere. I would not want to burden the Vietnamese with his sorry and whining ass.
+1 # Radscal 2014-06-03 12:30
"There was no rash of hostage-taking of Americans after Reagan bribed Iran…"

Sorry, but that is not even close to true. The Reagan team treasonously began negotiating with the most radical elements of the Iranian revolution during the 1980 campaign, and sealed the first deal which was pinned on Khomeini's promise not to release the hostages until Reagan was elected. That of course, is why the U.S. Embassy hostages were released as Reagan gave his inauguration speech.

At least 3 arms shipments were made to Iran within 2 months of Reagan's inauguration, with many more to come, all as part of the Iran/Contra crime spree.

And that did indeed lead to a "rash of hostage-taking, " including:
March 3, 1984: CIA Station Chief in Beirut Kidnapped; Will Die in Captivity
May 8, 1984: American Pastor Kidnapped by Hezbollah
December 3, 1984: US Professor Kidnapped in Beirut
January 8, 1985: Second American Pastor Kidnapped in Beirut
March 16, 1985: Associated Press Reporter Captured by Hezbollah, Held for Seven Years
May 28, 1985: American Hospital Administrator Kidnapped
June 9, 1985: Another American University Staffer Kidnapped
September 9-12, 1986: Two More Americans Taken Hostage by Hezbollah
September 19, 1986: Iranians Seek More US Arms, Take More Hostages
October 21, 1986: Another American Kidnapped in Lebanon
January 24, 1987: Three Americans, One Indian Kidnapped by Hezbollah
0 # RICHARDKANEpa 2014-06-03 15:49
Thanks Radshal for all your extensive work
0 # RICHARDKANEpa 2014-06-03 15:48
Bowe Bergdahl reminds me a little of Daniel Pearl and Ambassador Chris Steven's

All of their relatives oppose a war between civilizations, so do the relatives of the two Navy Seals who died along with Chris. If one want to condemn Bowe Berghahl and his relatives then note how similar they all are.

I see Chris Steven's and Daniel Pearl as heroes making this a better world,
New Benghazi Hearings Miss What Ghris Stevens Did Right
+1 # MJnevetS 2014-06-05 07:12
I will not comment on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, as I haven't done enough research to make an informed statement. However I will comment on the fact (because it is well documented) that these bloviating Republican/righ t wingers ignore, keeping prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, ESPECIALLY prisoners who are innocent of any wrongdoing, does make it more dangerous for Americans everywhere in the world. By torturing innocents, we potentially turn those people, their family, their friends and their villages into jihadi and certainly turn them away from a trust or liking of Americans. (I know, I know, conservative moles on this site are going to respond that Bush is so last decade get over it!) The unfortunate truth is that the damage caused by Gitmo, continues to this day. Certainly President Obama has some blame for not keeping his promise to close it, but it was Republican leaders who fought against placing the prisoners in stateside jails and prosecuting them criminally. So, yes, Bush is out of office for nearly 8 years, but he gave our country many gifts that keep on giving. Further, for Republicans to blame the current administration for 'negotiating with terrorists' is laughable. I guess it is only okay when it is a treasonous act (Nixon, Reagan and Bush 1), done covertly, to throw an election. THEN it is an upstanding thing to do!

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