Saturday, November 18 , 2017, 7:10 pm | Fair 58º

 
 
 
 

Mona Charen: Saving Sgt. Bergdahl

Speaking to graduates at West Point (New York), President Barack Obama tooted on his toy horn: "Al-Qaeda's leadership on the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been decimated." Even that slender boast — just on the border regions? — is now vitiated. The five Taliban terrorists released from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will step nimbly into any vacant posts.

Khairullah Khairkhwa, one of the founders of the Taliban, served as governor of Herat province when the Taliban controlled Afghanistan. He is known for ethnic massacres, narcotics trafficking, close ties to Osama bin Laden and supervising terrorist training camps within Herat.

Khairkhwa is a "moderate" compared with Mohammad Fazl, who is a "known war criminal" according to the Institute for the Study of War. Mullah Omar's "top soldier," Fazl displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians, destroyed homes and businesses, and personally planned and carried out the executions of at least 175 civilians.

Norullah Noori had close ties to bin Laden and served as a messenger between Mullah Omar and the al-Qaeda chief. The Taliban carried out several massacres in areas under his supervision, and he is wanted by the United Nations for war crimes.

Abdul Haq Wasiq was the deputy chief of the Taliban secret police. They're always such nice fellows.

Mohammad Nabi fought with an al-Qaeda cell and served in lesser posts in the Taliban government (room for professional development). He may have been included on the list because he's related to Bergdahl's captors.

Perhaps these releases are just the down payment on Obama's plan to free all of the detainees at Guantanamo. As he explained to the cadets, "And that's why I will continue to push to close Gitmo — because American values and legal traditions do not permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders." But that's not what the administration is claiming. They are touting the prisoner exchange as a proud example of the military ethic of "leave no man or woman behind," as the president expressed it.

When this administration requires an official to tell lies in service of a better story, they offer Susan Rice. In this case, she deadpanned, "Sgt. Bergdahl wasn't simply a hostage; he was an American prisoner of war captured on the battlefield."

That's false. According to copious reporting on the matter, Bergdahl deserted. Before he left his unit in the middle of the night, the New York Post reports, he sent his parents an email detailing his views of the COIN operation: "I am sorry for everything here. These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid. ... I am ashamed to be an American. And the title of U.S. soldier is just the lie of fools. ... The horror that is America is disgusting." His father emailed back, "OBEY YOUR CONSCIENCE."

Apparently, that's what he did. And he has paid a terrible price, no doubt. The Taliban are less than gracious hosts — even to self-hating Americans.

Wishing no further suffering on Bergdahl or his family, isn't it legitimate to make distinctions between soldiers who truly are "captured on the battlefield" and those who place their comrades in danger by deserting? At least six Americans were killed searching for Bergdahl.

As a member of his battalion told The Daily Beast: "Bergdahl did not 'lag behind on a patrol,' as was cited in news reports at the time. There was no patrol that night. Bergdahl was relieved from guard duty, and instead of going to sleep, he fled the outpost on foot. He deserted."

Even if Bergdahl had been a Medal of Honor winner, the exchange of five Taliban leaders for him would have been questionable. Such deals make kidnapping American soldiers more likely. The administration assures us that the Qatar government will enforce a travel ban on the five for a year. A year is nothing. And it's extremely doubtful that the Wahhabi, jihadist-supporting government of Qatar will keep strict tabs on the group.

The greatest offense here may not be to our security but to our intelligence. The White House has attempted to present this trade as some sort of victory. The president held a Rose Garden ceremony to tout his accomplishment in bringing home an American fighting man. Rice claims that Bergdahl served with "honor and distinction."

Either they are lying and hoping few will learn the real story about Bergdahl, or they really believe that such a misguided fool was honorable. Which, I wonder, is worse?

Mona Charen is a columnist with National Review magazine. Click here to contact her, follow her on Twitter: @mcharen, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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