Jason Ditz / The Huffington Post – 2013-07-03 02:49:00
(July 1, 2013) — Sunday marked the four-year anniversary of the capture of Sergeant (then Pfc.) Bowe Bergdahl by Taliban fighters in the Paktika Province of Afghanistan. Four years and several Taliban offers later, he is still in their custody, and the Obama administration shows little interest in getting him released.
The opportunities have presented themselves time and again for the president to negotiate Bergdahl’s release, but vague promises to do everything he can have come up totally empty, and a prisoner exchange offer made by the Taliban earlier in June has gone totally ignored.
It’s unconscionable that Bergdahl should remain a captive for four solid years with ample opportunity to secure his release, and an international embarrassment that the US has cheerfully left him to rot, particularly when other nations have shown a willingness to bend over backwards to secure the release of captured citizens.
A great example of this is Israel’s Gilad Shalit, who was captured in a cross-border raid in 2006. A similar situation of a low-ranking soldier taken away with no serious chance of being rescued through military means, his situation started much the same as Bergdahl’s.
But while America more or less forgot about Bergdahl within a few days of his capture, Shalit remained a major issue in the Israeli media for all five years of his. Public awareness of Shalit kept the pressure on Israel’s political leadership to do the right thing and see him freed.
And they eventually did. So determined was Israel to see a settlement that they agreed to release 1,027 detainees in return for Shalit. Before the deal was finalized, Israel even agreed to release 20 detainees just for a DVD video showing him in good condition, alive and well and waiting for an exchange.
Sgt. Bergdahl has had no such luxury. The offer to trade him for $1 million and 21 detainees was dismissed out of hand, and the Taliban’s new offer to trade him even up for just five detainees doesn’t seem to be going anywhere either.
For a nation that is nominally so reverent toward servicemen, the US has been shockingly willing to forget about Bergdahl’s plight, and seems loathe to make a public attempt to negotiate for him, even when the other side is making it clear they want to negotiate.
The unspoken scandal behind all of this is that the US had offered to unilaterally release the five detainees from Guantanamo Bay in March of 2012 simply as a “confidence builder” for prospective peace talks.
Before that release could be finalized, US Staff Sergeant Robert Bales killed 16 civilians in Kandahar and the 2012 talks, along with any “confidence builders,” were scrapped.
Now that the talks are being tried again, the Taliban is openly offering to release Bergdahl, and the only thing they want in return is something the US was going to do anyhow, release those five detainees. Unimaginably, President Obama has said nothing.
This “trade” is a no-brainer. Bowe Bergdahl deserves to have been freed long ago, and the trivial exchange that would secure his release absolutely must be accepted. Prisoner exchanges are a long-accepted part of the process of ending a war, and the reticence the administration continues to show is bound to undermine that process, prolonging the war and putting more lives in jeopardy.
Jason Ditz is news editor at Antiwar.com, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the cause of non-interventionism. His work has appeared in Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times and Detroit Free Press.
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