Letter from the US: Hypocrisy reigns in Taliban prisoner swap response

June 15, 2014
Jani and Bob Bergdahl, parents of US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.

Since the Obama administration arranged for the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the last US prisoner of war held by the Taliban in Afghanistan, there has been a firestorm of outrage from the right wings of both the Republican and Democratic parties.

Bergdahl has been pilloried as a traitor. His father has been denounced as a Muslim. Senators called for him to be court-martialed and thrown into the military stockade.

What is Bergdahl’s crime? While deployed in Afghanistan, he became disillusioned with the war and said so in emails to his family.

In one, sent three days before his capture in 2009, he wrote: “The future is too good to waste on lies …. And life is too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong.

“I have seen their ideas and I’m ashamed to even be American. The horror of the self-righteous, arrogance that they thrive in, it is all revolting.

“I’m sorry for everything here. These people [Afghans] need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them they’re nothing and that they are stupid and they have no idea how to live.

“The horror that is America is disgusting.”

In that email he also refers to seeing an Afghan child run over by a US military vehicle, and the callous response of his superiors.

Shortly after, he walked off his base, and apparently went to a nearby village. After about 24 hours, he was captured and jailed. These circumstances remain murky.

What is his father’s crime? With his son in a Taliban prison for five years, he became sympathetic to the plight of the prisoners of war the US holds indefinitely at its prison camp in Guantanamo, Cuba, which the US has illegally occupied for a century.

Bob Bergdahl, Bowe’s father, was interviewed by The Guardian in 2012, filmed in the Idaho countryside. He said: “I don’t think anybody can relate to the prisoners in Guantanamo more than our family, because it’s the same thing.

“How could we have such a high standard of judicial process for horrible war criminals [during World War II] … and yet now we can go for 10-11 years without even having a judicial process?

“It’s just wrong.”

In the video, the father is also shown listening to a recording of Dr Martin Luther King’s famous speech denouncing the US war against Vietnam.

Bowe’s father became a vocal advocate for the closure of the Guantanamo prison, notorious for its use of torture for many years.

While his son was being held captive, Bob tried to understand who the Taliban were. He learned some Pashto, as did Bowe while deployed. He also grew a long beard to feel closer to his son, stating he would not shave it until his son came home.

It was this beard which caused some in the media to level the “charge” that he “looked like a Muslim”.

No one in the media countered that racism. But what would be the reaction if the “charge” had been that “he looked like a Jew”?

When he made the announcement that Bergdahl had been released, Obama stood with the soldier’s parents beside him in the White House’s Rose Garden. He also referred to Bergdahl as “honourable”.

For this, Obama was denounced not only by the right wing, but even by the liberal media.

Big money was spent to hunt up some veterans who had been in Bergdahl’s unit. They were splashed all over TV demanding he be court-martialed for desertion.

However, Rolling Stone published aan article in 2012 headlined “America’s Last Prisoner of War”. In this article, the reporter embedded in Bergdahl’s unit found many soldiers who expressed antiwar attitudes similar to Bergdahl’s.

Nonetheless, the White House beat a retreat, and stated that after he recovers from his ordeal, the military will investigate the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture and take “appropriate” (but unspecified) legal action.

It would be a colossal blunder and international scandal if Bergdahl is court-martialed, let alone re-imprisoned by his own government. Such an outcome is therefore unlikely.

But the calls for court-martial became shrill enough for a cartoon in the British Financial Times to depict Bergdahl being sent to Guantanamo.

The other theme being hammered by leading figures in both capitalist parties was the release of the five Taliban officials held in Guantanamo.

Republican Senator John McCain said these five were “terrorists” who would go back to the battlefield in Afghanistan to fight Americans.

For some years, members of Congress had been briefed that negotiations were ongoing with the Taliban to exchange these same five people for the return of Bergdahl. McCain is on record approving the deal two years ago.

That the former Republican candidate for president is a hypocrite is hardly news.

In the US media and among politicians there is an amalgam of the Afghan Taliban with Al Queda and with other mutually hostile groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The Taliban was the government of Afghanistan that the US invasion overthrew. It was a repressive and reactionary government, but so were the warlords of the Northern Alliance factions that the US installed in Afghanistan.

The Taliban government never attacked Americans while it was in power.

The five Taliban members who were released in the exchange were government officials. They were not captured on the battlefield, but were taken into custody as officials of the overthrown Taliban government.

That they were held for over a decade in Guantanamo without charges or trial is more a condemnation of Washington than it is of them.

The whole issue of Guantanamo is once again in the news. The prisoners held there were not designated as prisoners of war by the Bush and Obama administrations. They were labelled “enemy combatants”.

This was done so that the US could deny treating them as prisoners of war, which under US rules would entitle them to certain rights the US did not want to grant them, such as the right not to be tortured.

The current uproar over the release of these five is designed to keep Guantanamo in operation and intimidate those who call for its closure, which Obama, when he was a candidate for president in 2008, promised he would do, but did not.

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