That manufactured scandal, as I hope everyone reading this realizes, is the feigned outrage of lawmakers and media pundits regarding President Obama’s decision to rescue a captured US soldier from Afghanistan by exchanging him for five Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo, who were sent to Qatar, which I first wrote about here, and followed up with an article entitled, “Missing the Point on the Guantánamo Taliban Prisoner Swap and the Release of Bowe Bergdahl.” Yesterday, I was invited to discuss the manufactured scandal on Democracy Now! and in the last few days I have also spoken about it on the Scott Horton Show (just days after my previous appearance on the show), and with Peter B. Collins on his show from the Bay Area.
My 20-minute interview with Scott is here, and my 40-minute interview with Peter is here. Although it is for subscribers only, you can pay just $1 for a day pass, although other subscription offers, from $5 a month, are also available.
According to the unprincipled, opportunistic lawmakers and commentators laying into the Obama administration regarding the prisoner exchange, the rescued US soldier, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network in Afghanistan for the last five years, is a deserter who should have been abandoned, even though no objective investigation has established the truth — or otherwise — of this claim.
With regard to the five Taliban officials released in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl, it is true that these are men who, to varying degrees, held leadership positions with the Taliban and who had not been cleared for release from the prison — unlike 78 of the remaining 149 prisoners, cleared for release for years but still held — but while the critics have been wailing about how they were too dangerous to release, the facts and the justifications for the deal say otherwise.
The government has stated that the deal — first discussed in 2011 — went ahead last week because of fears that Bergdahl was seriously ill, and because of assurances from the government of Qatar that they will not be free to travel for a year. Crucially, another important aspect of the story overlooked by the critics involves, firstly, the need for negotiations with the enemy as a war winds down (which is hugely important as there will be a major drawdown on US troops in Afganistan in December 2014), and secondly, an understanding that the justification for holding Taliban prisoners will expire with the drawdown of troops there, as John Bellinger, who served as a legal adviser in the Bush administration, explained in one of the most sensible analyses of the prisoner release. “[I]t is likely that the US would be required, as a matter of international law, to release them shortly after the end of 2014, when US combat operations cease in Afghanistan,” Bellinger wrote.
I hope you have time to listen to both shows, and to share them if you find them useful.
Scott described his show as follows:
Andy Worthington, an investigative journalist, author, and filmmaker, discusses his article “What We Should Really Be Talking About With the Bowe Bergdahl Controversy;” why Obama is getting flak for releasing Taliban officials from Guantanamo (who are POW’s, not terrorists); and the fate of the remaining prisoners.
On Peter’s show, we had more time to discuss topics beyond the immediate controversy — including the ongoing hunger strikes and force-feeding, and Peter followed our discussion by speaking to Jon B. Eisenberg, one of the lawyers for Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner, long cleared for release, who embarked on a hunger strike in despair at ever being released, and then found himself brutally force-fed. Dhiab has been challenging the government in court, as I explained in my recent articles, “Breakthrough on Guantánamo: Judge Orders US Government to Stop Force-Feeding Syrian Prisoner and to Preserve Video Evidence,” “For First Time, US Judge Orders Government to Release Videotapes of Force-Feeding to Guantánamo Prisoner’s Lawyers,” and “Judge Reluctantly Allows US to Resume Force-Feeding Guantánamo Hunger Striker.”
This is how Peter described the show:
As political leaders attack Obama for swap of Taliban prisoners and ignore important related issues, we talk with journalist Andy Worthington about the Bergdahl trade and lawyer Jon Eisenberg about the legal battle over force-feeding Gitmo hunger strikers.
Worthington has provided detailed coverage of Guantánamo at his website, and is the author of The Guantánamo Files. We talk about the recent attention to Gitmo caused by the swap of 5 Taliban prisoners for American POW Bowe Bergdahl, the rank hypocrisy and opportunism of politicians who supported a swap for Bergdahl until Obama executed it, and their micro-management of the prison while ignoring Obama’s recent change to the Afghan exit plan and his assertion of authority to order people killed by drone strikes. We discuss the newly-exposed rift over Guantánamo releases between the White House and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel, and he pointedly notes that Obama has failed to use the discretion available to him despite restrictions imposed by Congress. Worthington adds important background information on the 5 Taliban leaders — particularly that there is no evidence that any of them were involved in attacks on Americans.
At the 43-minute mark, we talk with Eisenberg about the hunger strikers at Guantánamo – now renamed in Orwellian fashion as “non-religious fasters” — and the legal issues raised by brutal force-feeding. He is on the legal team of Syrian prisoner Abu [Wa'el] Dhiab, who has been held for 12 years without charge or trial, and was cleared for release in 2009. As Worthington reports, Dhiab is one of the 6 inmates offered a home in Uruguay, but Eisenberg is not permitted to confirm that under the Kafka[esque] rules of the Gitmo bar. Eisenberg details the grisly process of forced extraction from prison cells and the repeated insertion of nasal tubes, a very painful process; he also describes gratuitous infliction of pain reported by his clients.
In May, federal judge Gladys Kessler issued a restraining order halting Dhiab’s cell extraction and forced feeding, but dissolved it a week later over fears that he would die. From her rulings, it is clear that Kessler is quite anguished by the case, and ired by the Pentagon’s refusal to use more humane methods.
Eisenberg had not heard the Worthington interview when we spoke, so it is interesting that he, too, singled out President Obama for failing to use his authority to order an end to the inhumane treatment of the hunger strikers.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here – or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. It’s very much appreciated. I’m hoping the hysteria is dying down a little, and would expect it to do so, as , generally, sustained hysteria is difficult in a world of rolling news, where everyone is supposed to have a short attention span. However, damage has clearly been done, and I can only hope that the administration is thinking seriously about when to release more prisoners, presumably – this time – after giving Congress 30 days’ notice. The six men – long cleared for release – who cannot be repatriated but have been offered new homes in Uruguay would be a good start. I wrote about that story here: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2014/05/19/uruguays-president-mujica-confirms-offer-of-new-home-for-six-guantanamo-prisoners/
And here’s the latest on Chuck Hagel’s deliberations about the six men: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/29/us-usa-guantanamo-uruguay-idUSKBN0E90L020140529
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