Bowe Bergdal’s release is a step in the right direction

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Bowe Bergdahl’s release has caused consternation and debate on Capitol Hill,  but it should not have been controversial.

It was merely a step to end a very long war.

The five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo) were highly ranked in a terribly repressive regime. The regime was so dreadful, that there can be little doubt they were bad actors who committed horrible crimes. One of them, Mohammed Fazl, a Taliban commander, is accused of being instrumental in the brutal slaughter of thousands of Shite Muslims.

However the United States was in a conundrum, as the Talib prisoners were held in endless custody in Guantanamo Bay. Such extra-legal detention precluded any judicial hearings to legitimately prosecute them for war crimes or crimes against humanity. They were unwanted in any state, short of Taliban controlled territory. (And had there been legitimate judicial hearings, and had they been sent to prison, no President or legislator could have released them.) In truth, it was fait accompli we were going to release the Talibs as prisoners of war, whether we had traded them for a prisoner or not.

With the United States winding down the Afghan War, and with President Obama’s yearning to close Gitmo before leaving office, the pressing question of what to do with these five was not a small issue. For the most part, Qatar’s offer to hold the prisoners has been viewed by American’s with deep skepticism, and this is too bad, because Qatar has done the United States a huge favor to take these five dirty prisoners off our hands.

Without ridding ourselves of such prisoners, it would be nearly impossible to close Gitmo, and we should close it. It was an extra-legal passion, denying the United States of its greatest inheritance, the Rule of Law in the face of adversity.

Even during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln ran for re-election, when staunch opponents challenged him whether to pursue the war to conclusion. Had he not won, the United States as we know it would have ceased to exist. He placed the priority of the rule of law over his own political survival, and even that of the Union.

He ran for re-election in the midst of war after over a half a million soldiers had died in the struggle. Yet in the wake of 9/11,  President George W. Bush set about to demolish legal institutions, such as judicial prosecutions and detentions, as he viewed them as inconvenient to the War on Terror.

Michael Isikoff, investigative correspondent for Newsweek, even reported that the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security began examining ways to postpone the 2004 presidential election in the event of an attack near election day.

What a stain.

The War on Terror was as much an attempt to shred the Constitution as it was to annihilate “evil doers.” The term, “evil doer”, is not a precise or legal term. It merely reflected a passion or hatred for an enemy. Even the word “terrorist” is imprecise. There was no proper definition for the term. It was a careless ad hominem with serious ramifications. In the early years of the 21st Century, like in 1692 Salem, accusing someone of being a terrorist could have landed them in a hellish prison by extra-judicial kidnapping, or even death.

The War on Terror was not our finest moment. Terrorists and terrorism will continue to exist, no matter what our response to it is. We can choose to behave effectively or ineffectively to such threats, but choosing to shred the very document that defines who we are as a nation, because it appears temporarily troublesome, is wrongheaded, stupid and even suicidal.

Now Bowe Bergdahl has been released from captivity. Allegations are that he deserted his platoon.  He did or didn’t. As a deserter, he was or he wasn’t. Legal proceedings will sort that out, but as I stood recently by the Vietnam War Memorial , I considered the 50,000-plus names on that black granite, and I thought how many died unnecessarily in  that imprudent war.

Most died by enemy gunfire, but some were killed by their own platoon. Everyone on that wall is a hero. The nefarious roots of the modern day word “fracking” come from the popular term from the Vietnam War, fragging, to kill a fellow soldier (usually an officer) with a fragmentation grenade.

Regrettably fragging did occur, and like extra-judicial murder terrorism bestows, it likely exists today.

Had Bowe Bergdahl been an outlier to his fellow troops, which it appears he was, it is safe to assume that he had more to fear from his fellow Americans than the Taliban. No justification can be for desertion, and if he did abandon his post, he should be court-martialed.

But the media often gets in front of a story that hasn’t been told yet. Like dark matter in the Universe, there appears to be a lot we haven’t learned yet and that will come out in time. Meanwhile we can be grateful Bowe Bergdahl is released, that a step in closing Gitmo was undertaken by dispensing of particularly poisonous prisoners of war, that we are removing our troops from Afghanistan, and we can put this mess to rest as we finish the War in Afghanistan.

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