The White House again seems to be struggling with barriers of both language and logic as many raise comparisons between the controversial Bergdahl swap and the effort this week of Jordan to swap a terrorist for one of its downed pilots with Islamic State. During a week where one of the five Taliban leaders released by the Administration has been found trying to communicate with the Taliban, the Jordanian swap has reignited the criticism of the swap for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, which violated federal law and released Taliban leaders with long and bloody records. The White House seems to be trying to argue that the Taliban are not terrorists in direct contradiction to its prior position that they are indeed terrorists. It shows the fluidity of these terms and how the government uses or withdraws designations as terrorists to suit its purposes. The familiarities between Islamic State (IS) and the Taliban appear to be something in the eye of beholder or, to quote a certain former president, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”
As a refresher, the Taliban has long been viewed as terrorists, even when they were in power. They have destroyed religious sites, art, and in one of the most infamous acts in modern history, blew up the giant ancient Buddhas at Bamiyan. The United Nations and human rights groups have documented a long list of civilian massacres and bombings carried out by the Taliban. One report described “15 massacres” between 1996 and 2001. The UN estimates that the Taliban were responsible for 76% of civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2009, 75% in 2010 and 80% in 2011. The Human Rights Watch estimates that “at least 669 Afghan civilians were killed in at least 350 armed attacks, most of which appear to have been intentionally launched at non-combatants.” This includes the widespread use of suicide belts. The Taliban has always had a close alliance with al Qaeda.
That record was put into sharp relief with the swap for Bergdahl with ties to terrorism including one who was the head of the Taliban army, one who had direct ties to al-Qaeda training operations, and another who was implicated by the United Nations for killing thousands of Shiite Muslims. While we have always said that we do not negotiate with terrorists, we not only negotiated for Bergdahl but gave them what they wanted.
The Jordanian swap raised the same obvious concerns. Many have objected, for good reason, to the idea of releasing Sajida al-Rishawi, who participated with her husband in a terrorist attack on a wedding party at the luxury Radisson hotel in the Jordanian capital of Amman on Nov. 9, 2005. al-Rishawi hoped to be welcomed to paradise by walking into a wedding of 300 people enjoying a family gathering with children and murdering them in cold blood. Her husband’s bomb went off but not her bomb. It goes without saying that she is a hero to the murderous Islamic State for her effort to kill men, women, and children at a wedding.
The swap appears in part the result of pressure from Japan to secure the release of one of its citizens. In my view, such a propose swap was disgraceful. al-Rishawi is as bad as it gets as a terrorist. To yield to terrorists who engage in weekly demonstrations of beheading unarmed captives is morally wrong and practically suicidal. Just as the West is funding this terrorist organization through millions of ransom payments, the exchange of a terrorist only fuels their effort to capture and torture more Western captives.
This brings us back to the White House. When asked about the proposed swap with Islamic State, the White House was aghast. White House spokesman Eric Schultz stated “Our policy is that we don’t pay ransom, that we don’t give concessions to terrorist organizations. This is a longstanding policy that predates this administration and it’s also one that we communicated to our friends and allies across the world.”
The media understandably sought guidance on why the swap with Bergdahl was the right thing to do (despite the flagrant violation of federal law) while the swap for the pilot was not. The White House acknowledged that the Taliban are still on a terrorist list but then tried to rehabilitate the organization into something else. The White House is now referring to the Taliban as an “armed insurgency.” It notes that the Taliban are not listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization. However, they are listed as one of the “specially designated global terrorist” groups by the Department of the Treasury. Indeed, they have been on that list since 2002. Worse yet, the statement from the White House came in the same week that the Taliban claimed responsibility for killing three U.S. contractors.
John Earnest tried to threat the needle by explaining “They do carry out tactics that are akin to terrorism, they do pursue terror attacks in an effort to try to advance their agenda.” He seems to struggle to explain what is terrorist attacks and what are attacks “akin to terrorism.” Most people view suicide belts and civilian massacres to be a bit more than “akin to terrorism.”
Earnest also note that, while the Taliban has links to al Qaeda, they “have principally been focused on Afghanistan.” However, “Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization that has aspirations that extend beyond just the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.” That is diametrically opposed to the position of the Administration in claiming sweeping powers to strike targets around the world against any forces linked to al Qaeda and many who have few such links. Indeed, while referencing to the authorization to attack al Qaeda, the Administration attacked Islamic State, which was actively fighting with al Qaeda.
The spin of the White Hosue also ignores the role of the Taliban-aligned Haqqani network in holding Bergdahl, a well-known terrorist group.
There are obviously arguments to make for the Bergdahl swap (though I find little compelling in the arguments that justify the violation of federal law by the White House). However, the argument must acknowledge that we negotiated with a group of hostage taking terrorists and we need to address the implications of that fact. Alternatively, if the White House now believes that the Taliban is no longer a terrorist organization, it needs to take it off its listing of such groups (a listing that subjects people to criminal charges for material support or assistance with the group). It cannot have it both ways and call it a terrorist group unless such a label is inconvenient.
Source: Wall Street Journal