February 21, 2014. Hailey, ID. Something is going on in the effort to bring America’s lone POW Bowe Bergdahl home. What has been years of silence and apparent inactivity on the part of the administration has suddenly become an ‘all hands on deck’ effort involving the Pentagon, State Department, White House, Congress and even government officials from Qatar.
Billboards like this are popping up all over America right now in a massive effort to raise awareness. Image courtesy of SupportBowe.org.
For someone who’s spent the last few years passionately campaigning for the return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl by Taliban-allied forces in Afghanistan, it seems obvious that something has changed in the past 30 days. For four years, nobody in the administration knew anything. Now, everyone knows everything. For four years, there was no demonstrable interest in US elected officials to bring the 27-year-old American POW home. Now, it’s everybody’s top priority. There’s definitely a measurable sense of action and optimism in the air.
Taliban offers to return US POW, again
News that the Taliban released a brand new video showing American POW Bowe Bergdahl alive and still a prisoner of Islamic fighters was circulated around Europe a month ago. That news broke in the US nine days ago by The Daily Beast. And what has been more than four years of desperately seeking any news at all, has suddenly become a tidal wave of information and reported efforts on both sides to agree to a prisoner exchange.
To bring readers up to speed, US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was captured by Taliban allied forces in Afghanistan in 2009. At least twice, official discussions were reportedly taking place to work out a prisoner exchange. The Islamic fighters want a handful of their brethren currently being held at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for America’s lone official POW. When President Obama was elected, he had promised to close the secret off-shore prison, which looked good for Bergdahl’s release. But that never happened and negotiations eventually ceased.
As Bowe Bergdahl’s captors periodically released videos of their American prisoner, they repeatedly made public appeals to US officials to resume negotiations for a prisoner exchange. But for more than two years, it appeared the Obama administration had no interest in pursuing the offer. Then in 2011, it was reported that US officials had relaunched talks with the Taliban over the exchange. But again, the discussions broke down and ceased.
Now, according to The Daily Beast report, the Taliban has once again reached out to US officials to discuss opening a dialog regarding the exchange of prisoners. Apparently, State Dept officials didn’t believe Bergdahl was even alive anymore and demanded proof before they would consider new talks. In response last month, the Taliban released a video of Bowe Bergdahl, showing him in poor health, but still alive. Apparently, that’s all the Obama administration was waiting for to give the negotiations their full and sincere attention. Thanks to the lone remaining open channel of communications between the US and Taliban, groundwork is being laid for new discussions using Qatar as a middleman.
The account details how federal officials have paved the way for a prisoner exchange by changing wording in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Specifically, Congress removed the requirement that the Defense Secretary certify that Guantanamo prisoners pose no threat to the US. Now, the DoD need only notify Congress of any Guantanamo prisoner release, or in this case, a prisoner exchange.
Time running out
Three days ago, CNN picked up the story and detailed how this may be America’s last chance to bring POW Bowe Bergdahl home. With US forces pulling out of Afghanistan and souring relations with President Hamid Karzai, America will have little leverage in the country going forward. But the account also referenced numerous quotes and revelations showing that the effort to bring Bowe home is suddenly a top priority of US officials.
On January 29, Whiteout Press called Idaho’s two US Representatives and two US Senators to task over their lack of effort to help their own POW constituent Bowe Bergdahl. We reported that after an exhaustive search, we couldn’t find a single statement, press release or announcement from Rep Raul Labrador (R-ID), Rep Mike Simpson (R-ID), or Sen James Risch (R-ID) regarding POW Bowe Bergdahl. Sen Mike Crapo (R-ID) was the only one of the four that was on record. Unfortunately and somewhat insincerely, his statement turned out to be a near word-for-word copy of a public statement put out by the entire Idaho delegation five months earlier.
Read the January 29 Whiteout Press article, ‘Birthday Cards for Bowe, America’s lone POW’ for more information.
My how things change in two weeks. When CNN contacted Sen Mike Crapo for a comment on the just-released confirmation that talks were starting again to gain Bowe Bergdahl’s release, the Idaho Senator was suddenly back in action. He told the network that getting Bowe back was, “the highest priority that I have in my office."
GOP blocking Bergdahl’s return
"Frankly, a lot of what's going on is confidential and cannot be discussed,” Crapo explained to CNN, “And I'm not familiar with exactly what details are going on right now in terms of any negotiations. What I can assure you is I've met with our military and diplomatic and intelligence authorities, both in the United States and in Afghanistan and Pakistan, about this, and I'm convinced that they are making this a very high priority."
Perhaps Senator Crapo could turn his efforts inward toward his own Republican Party and fellow GOP Congressmen. Congressional Republicans have long been accused, with the accusation appearing once again in the CNN report, of being the main obstacle standing in the way of the return of America’s lone POW Bowe Bergdahl. Between their murky refusals to ‘negotiate with terrorists’ and their refusal to release any accused terrorists from Guantanamo, State Dept officials who believe they can negotiate an exchange fear the deal would only be squelched by angry Republican Congressmen.
For its part, the Democratic Party hasn’t done any better. Congressional Democrats seem to lobby everyday for the release of al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists from Guantanamo but don’t seem to know who their own POW Bowe Bergdahl is. That fact was illustrated two weeks ago when a number of Illinois residents cornered their Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL) and grilled him over the controversial TPP agreement and POW Bowe Bergdahl. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Democratic US Congressman didn’t even know who Bowe was.
For more information, read the February 8th edition of our sister publication Illinois Herald titled, ‘Voters ambush Rep Quigley over TPP, POW Bowe Bergdahl’.
Former Army Secretary under Republican President George HW Bush - Van Hipp - presented for CNN the typical GOP position that argues against trying to get POW Bergdahl back. “We are sending the message to terrorist organizations all over the world that it's OK to capture an American soldier - that America will deal with you," he told the network. Unfortunately, with Hipp currently being a highly-paid Washington consultant, he’s exactly the type of expert US officials will consult with prior to negotiating any prisoner exchange.
The tide is turning
Even with Republican resistance to securing the release of Bowe Bergdahl from imprisonment by Islamic forces believed to be holding him in Pakistan, the effort is obviously and suddenly moving forward with signs and examples all over the place that things may be different this time. First and foremost, the American news media is suddenly pushing administration officials for an explanation of their apparent inaction. And second, US officials are publicly making statements affirming their pursuit of any and all options to gain the release of Sgt. Bergdahl.
Just one week ago, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby was quoted by the Washington Post explaining, “He’s been gone too long. We want him back. We’ve never stopped trying to bring that about. He’s never far from anyone’s mind here.” The outlet reportedly spoke to a number of high level US officials who all confirmed that the administration was serious about getting America’s POW back and putting on the equivalent of a full court press to make it happen.
The Post quotes the officials confirming that last month, all negotiations between the US and Taliban would be restricted to prisoner exchange. The previous top US priority of securing a lasting peace in Afghanistan after the withdrawl of US forces has taken a back seat to securing the return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The officials, who spoke to the paper on condition of anonymity, said the administration is hoping a successful prisoner exchange would lay the groundwork for negotiations on other subjects and show each side’s sincerity.
Also showing that the administration’s efforts are for real are reports that US military negotiators have not only bypassed the Afghan government in their secret discussions to obtain the release of Bergdahl, they’ve also reportedly bypassed the Taliban and gone directly to the smaller Islamic militia actually holding Bowe - the Taliban-allied Haqqani Network. Apparently, the US is currently holding a number of Haqqani fighters at Guantanamo and would be open to making a direct exchange.
The Post wrote four days ago, ‘At one point in 2012, US officials tried to feel out the Haqqanis through a senior member of the network held at Bagram, but there was no response, one official said. Another person familiar with the effort said similar exploratory planning was done to test whether the Haqqanis might be paid off or otherwise enticed to let Bergdahl escape.’
After more than four years of near silence on the part of US officials and the American media, suddenly it seems like POW Bowe Bergdahl is in the news and on the lips of Washington officials on a daily basis. That alone shows that America may finally be taking the effort to bring Bowe home seriously. We left our POW’s behind in World War 2, Korea and Vietnam. Americans swore they’d never let that happen again. And it’s finally starting to look like they meant it.
To stay informed or to show your support, visit SupportBowe.org.
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