I was delighted to be invited onto Democracy Now! today to discuss the ongoing hysteria in the US about the Obama administration’s decision to release five Taliban prisoners at Guantánamo in exchange for the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
This hysteria — in Congress and the media — has involved outrageous claims that Bergdahl should have been abandoned because he was a deserter, even though this claims has never been proven, and that the Taliban prisoners should not have been released (to monitored freedom in Qatar), because they pose a phenomenal threat to the US (there is absolutely no evidence of this).
Some of the cynical opportunists attacking the president are also calling for him to be impeached because he failed to observe a Congressional requirement to give lawmakers a 30-day notification prior to the release of any prisoners (even though the administration has explained why it failed to do so — primarily because of immediate fears for Bergdahl’s life). Depressingly, those attacking the president are also threatening to try to prevent him from releasing any more prisoners from Guantánamo, even though the majority of the men still held have been cleared for release.
I spoke to Amy Goodman and Juan González in the last section of the show, along with Frank Goldsmith, the attorney for Khairullah Khairkhwa, one of the five men, who spoke powerfully about his client. I then had the opportunity to discuss elements of the story that I had written about in my recent articles, "What We Should Really Be Talking About With the Bowe Bergdahl Controversy" (for PolicyMic) and "Missing the Point on the Guantánamo Taliban Prisoner Swap and the Release of Bowe Bergdahl."
The video of the show is below:
Sadly, the segment was quite short, and I didn’t have time to specifically discuss the plight of the remaining 149 prisoners in Guantánamo, and, in particular, the 78 men still held who have been cleared for release, as briefly mentioned above — 75 who had their release approved in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed when he first took office in 2009, and three approved for release in recent months by Periodic review Boards, established to review the cases of almost all the men who have not been cleared for release.
I do, however, understand Amy and Juan providing a prominent forum for Matthew Farwell, a veteran of the Afghan occupation and now a journalist, who worked with the late Michael Hastings on the definitive profile of Bowe Bergdahl, "America’s Last Prisoner of War," for Rolling Stone two years ago. Matthew Farwell was interviewed in the first part of the show, and I’m happy to also make the video of his interview available below:
Perhaps if the false hysteria about Bowe Bergdahl and the Taliban prisoners is still thriving next week, I will get the opportunity to speak again about why all decent people should be appalled that the cleared prisoners are in danger of, yet again, being used in a cynical game of political football by lawmakers and their cheerleaders in the media.
I take heart, however, that, in an otherwise dreadful article in the Washington Post today, US officials "stressed that the swap does not set a precedent either for flouting the 30-day notice requirement to Congress or for future releases of prisoners from Guantánamo Bay."
A senior administration official, who "spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the longer-range process of closing the military prison," told the Post, "Bergdahl is an exceptional case," adding, "There are a significant number of transfers in the pipeline, and I think you are going to see progress this year."
Asked if the current hysteria "would complicate future transfers," the official told the Post, "The facts and the merits very much support the conclusion that Guantánamo should be closed. The fundamentals of that picture are clear now, just as clear as they were a couple weeks ago."
I hope that, as a result, there will be more releases soon — and a good start would be the six men who cannot be safely repatriated but who were recently offered a new home in Uruguay by President Mujica. Just last week, defense secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters he would be "making some decisions on those specific individuals here fairly soon."
Hagel said Congress "had assigned him the responsibility of notifying it of a decision to release detainees," as Reuters put it. "My name goes on that document. That’s a big responsibility," he said, adding, "I have a system that I have developed, put in place, to look at every element, first of all complying with the law, risks, mitigation of risk. Does it hit the thresholds of the legalities required? Can I ensure compliance with all those requirements? There is a risk in everything … I suspect I will never get a 100-percent deal."
That, unlike the current hysteria, is a realistic statement, and I hope Chuck Hagel works out that releasing the six men — and others whose release has been under discussion for many months before the prisoner exchange — is still of huge importance.
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.
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