Debate forum: 06/17

Forum Center: Has the United States exchanged more than just prisoners?

By Alex Culpepper

Dealing with prisoners of war was fairly simple in ancient times: prisoners were either killed or became slaves. Sometimes it was beneficial for both sides to have exchanges, but that was complicated. By the Middle Ages and beyond, exchanges and ransoms were in vogue, and it became profitable for one side to get money just for handing over some prisoners, especially high-ranking ones. During the American Revolution, colonial fighters simply rotted in filthy prisons until the end the conflict, and the Arabs and Israelis have historically favored exchanges, returning thousands from either side. The latest and most famous exchange involves American Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and Taliban prisoners.

Bergdahl was serving in the Army in Afghanistan back in 2009 when he was taken prisoner by Taliban forces. He was not the first soldier taken over there, but he was the last one released. The deal involved his freedom for five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo in Cuba. They were shipped to Qatar, and U.S. forces met up close and personal with Taliban leaders in Afghanistan to secure Bergdahl. He is now undergoing health treatment in Germany and is protected from news media. The deal is controversial, and the added back story of Bergdahl’s alleged desertion, which led to his capture in 2009, makes this one heavy-duty story in the news right now.

Opponents of the deal say this is dealing with terrorists, rather than another sovereign nation. They claim the five prisoners released could easily find their way back to war zones and engage in attacks on U.S. and allied interests. Another problem cited is making trades like this one just provides incentives for Taliban forces or al Qaeda to capture more U.S. personnel for further exchanges of their own people. They say the way to get prisoners back is to do it the old-fashioned way – by sending in rescue forces as the country has done in the past. Then there’s the claim the deal violates U.S. law because Congress was not involved.

Supporters of the deal say we should make deals to get our soldiers back. They say the five Taliban prisoners are forced to remain in Qatar for a year, and wherever they go after, they will be monitored. Another point they make is the Guantanamo prisoners will be released at some point, so why not get some additional benefit from their release? Supporters also say we’ve done this before – back in 1981, when we made a deal with Iran to return hostages. They further say making deals with the Taliban is not always bad, because the war can’t last forever, and the United States might be best served opening diplomatic channels.

The fight between the sides on this is raging healthily right now, and polls show although more people oppose the deal than support it, the opposition is not a majority. That would leave a fair amount of undecided folks out there. Opponents have no problem with Bergdahl’s safe return, only the way in which he came back. Proponents see no problem with the deal and figure it was best for everyone involved.

Reach DCP forum moderator Alex Culpepper at

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

To free Bowe Bergdahl, the United States released five Taliban detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Was this prisoner release trade with the Taliban a good deal?

Debate Left: Obama: Damned if he did, damned if he didn’t

By Marianne Stanley

Speculation. At this point in time, following the successful return of Bowe Bergdahl, our last P.O.W. from Afghanistan in exchange for five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo, we have only a few facts and boatloads of speculation. 

In these circumstances, one would think we could bite our tongues and withhold our judgment long enough for all the facts to be revealed. But, no. This is 2014 America, Land of the Disintegrating-Everything, where fiction is stronger than fact and political insanity has become the norm. In this atmosphere, it doesn’t matter what the truth is; radicals have captured our media and our conversations, turning gossip into key issues and dialogue into diatribe and drivel. 

Anyone who isn’t aware Democrats are not “allowed” to be president hasn’t been paying attention. Since Day One, Republicans launched one frivolous attack after another on Obama, as they did on Clinton. These same folks who are calling this trade an impeachable offense would have said Obama’s leaving an American soldier behind is an impeachable offense. Whether he zigs or zags, someone is there with a machete to cut him off at the knees. Determined to destroy his attempts to leave a meaningful legacy, Congressional Republicans have pledged to say “no” to every single legislative proposal he has sought, and a tattered and torn America is the result. They have said “no” to reducing crippling student loan debt by allowing students to refinance at a lower interest rate, “no” to approving stimulus money for the economy, “no” to health care for everyone, to extending unemployment benefits, to allowing our own youngest citizens to have enough to eat, to keeping their hands off of women’s reproductive choices, to tackling the looming catastrophe of climate change. The truth is, this “Party of No” has NO business protecting the few at the expense of the rest of us, but they are relentless in their propaganda and spin.

For instance, we are hearing Obama is guilty of “negotiating with terrorists.” Interesting, isn’t it, that the person who started using that phrase was none other than Ronald Reagan, whose transition team negotiated the Iranian hostages’ release behind President Jimmy Carter’s back? And it was none other than George W. Bush who paid a $300,000 ransom to a radical Islamist group in the Philippines that was holding an American missionary couple captive. The husband was killed anyway, thus Bush ended up not only negotiating with terrorists but also essentially financing terrorist operations while overseeing a failed military mission. Can you imagine the headlines had Obama done that? It was George W., by the way, who declared the Taliban a terrorist organization in 2002 by executive order. His unilateral decision put us in a conundrum since, although the Taliban is not on the State Department list of terrorist organizations, Bush’s executive order has the same force and legal understanding. Thus, the Taliban is both an “enemy combatant” with which we absolutely must negotiate, and a terrorist group with which we absolutely must not negotiate. 

Saying “We don’t negotiate with terrorists.” is nothing more than a slogan, and slogans are nothing more than the non-thinking person’s way to deal with the complexities of today without having to do the hard work of research and analytical thinking. 

Obama has been put in this position by the previous administration’s declaration of war on Iraq and Afghanistan – both were stupid ideas pushed on the American public for no good reason, but at the cost of thousands of very precious American lives and hundreds of thousands of precious Iraqi and Afghani lives. We do not belong in other sovereign nations. Period. Our “wars” have only caused terrorism to explode, yet we continue obliviously on.

Rather than allowing our worthless “media” to focus on Bergdahl, or Obama, or the five released Gitmo P.O.W.s, why don’t we for once ask the underlying pivotal question: “Why are we silently allowing our nation to be in a state of continuous ‘war’ against countries that have never attacked us? Why do we keep 50 million of our people unable to keep food on the table while allowing our tax dollars, $500 billion of them, to go to the Pentagon? For 50 long years, more than two generations, we have fought continuous wars without even one “win.” So, why is our media focusing on the V.A. with its puny scheduling problem rather than on the primary reason we have so many veterans with so many health needs? 

While our country unravels to the point of being unrecognizable, the radical right continues to gleefully spin its web to catch the unsuspecting American in its lies. They dutifully beat the drums of war. War stinks. Killing stinks. This whole Bergdahl “investigation” stinks.  

Let’s just shut up until we know enough to speak with some intelligence. Better yet, let’s use our communal voices to demand an end to war. It is a baseless exercise in inhumanity and a huge waste of human promise and potential. Invest in people, not weapons. Seek to heal. Support diplomacy. Quit looting the planet. Quit invading other nations. Bring our troops home. Had they stayed here where they belong, there would be no Bergdahl story feeding our spin machine – and thousands of unique young service-members would be in the thick of friends and family today.

Marianne Stanley is an attorney, college professor and former journalist who believes many of our nation’s ills could be cured if our children were taught critical thinking skills beginning at the elementary level and continuing through middle and high school. She can be reached at

Debate Right: A question of loyalty

By Dave Westbrock

When the subject of a prisoner swap – as is the case of the transfer of five barbarous terrorists for a suspected deserter – takes place, head-scratching is human nature. If your favorite sports team made a trade that seemed incongruous, for example, if the Cincinnati Reds were to trade Joey Votto, Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, Devin Mesoraco and Brandon Phillips for some journeyman outfielder, Reds fans would naturally be outraged and would certainly question the sanity and the loyalty of both owner and general manager to winning baseball games. By the same token, it is more than a little curious that President Obama, without consulting Congress or his intelligence advisors – other than the yes men on the National Security Council – would decide to free such savage killers in exchange for a military man of questionable loyalty to his comrades, and indeed the United States. Unlike the spin cleverly spoken by the president that we have done prisoner exchanges on countless occasions, no president has ever negotiated with terrorists to release not prisoners of war, but terrorists.

Let us first look at the facts and then allow ourselves to make reasonable surmises about the reasons for such irrationality. First, we know Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was raised by a woodsman and home schooled in a family apparently at least partially isolated from the community at an early age. His father certainly has the look of wild mountain man. He subsequently tried to enlist in the French Foreign Legion, but was rejected. One may ask why he was rejected by the Foreign Legion, but welcomed by the U.S. military. 

Second, that he was not a loyal soldier is testified to by his entire platoon, despite the attempts by the government to quash their testimony. So, it stands to reason the sergeant was not the typical prisoner of war. For all intents, he was a voluntary walkaway and not a captive of battle. He was told by a villager to not travel into a certain area for fear of capture by the Taliban, but consciously did it anyway. 

This is not the tale of an American hero, a soldier who served with “honor and distinction.”

The credo of the American military is “no one left behind,” so, as a result, anywhere from six to 100 soldiers lost their lives in search of, or as the result of, increased intelligence garnered by the Taliban. Then the spin of “no soldier left behind” brings a certain amount of skepticism based on the president’s demonstrated lack of caring for the nation’s military in general. Witness, Barack Obama wanted veterans to pay for their own health insurance soon after his election, and the announcement of a date of certain pullout of troops from Afghanistan against the advice of his defense secretary. In addition, the mere fact he was willing to jeopardize the lives of remaining troops by release of these savages.

Another fact that strikes full face is the behavior of his father during the press event at the White House: speaking Pashto, praising Allah. If he was attempting to seduce the Taliban to release his son, such extremity would be understandable, but not after his son had been released, implying he was indeed sympathetic with the barbarians who had captured his son. Or could this be a case of Stockholm Syndrome by proxy?

This president is cavalier about enforcing the laws and the Constitution, which is certainly not novel during the five and a half years of his administration. He has not consulted Congress in his military action in Libya, and has given tacit support to the Muslin Brotherhood government of Egypt. In the former case, his support created the ground for the de facto Al Qaeda takeover of Libya and the Benghazi tragedy. And in the latter, military support for an authoritarian and radical Islamic extremist government bent on the destruction of the only democratically elected government in the region: Israel.

And what of President Obama’s great sensitivity to extremists by forbidding the use of “war on terrorism,” substituting instead the meaningless “overseas contingency,” or the banning of “Islamic terrorists?” And what of the Fort Hood shooting by a covert Islamic terrorist army major being labeled “workplace violence?” 

In addition, victims were denied being awarded purple hearts. Was this not injury in service of this country? All this betrays the lack of loyalty to this country’s defenders and the United States in general. This is not bad judgment, but a lack of understanding and emotional attachment to U.S. foundations of liberty. The president’s defenders all brag about how intellectual he is, how profound his communication skills and his judgment are. He has been criticized by others as perhaps not so smart, particularly naïve in foreign affairs and unlettered in the subtleties of managing the largest bureaucracy in the world and dealing with the legislative branch. 

But make no mistake: he has been as effective as those veterans of politics, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. He knows what he is doing. He does not care about the Constitution, and realizes he does not need to run for re-election, so he can be blatantly honest to his beliefs. The Bowe Bergdahl affair is not therefore unique; it is just Barack Obama being himself.

Dr. Westbrock has been in private medical practice for 35 years. He was the Republican candidate for the U.S House of Representatives in 1994 and 1996. He has written and lectured extensively on the subject of health care reform and health care policy. He can be reached at

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