A couple of days later, in an almost supernaturally handy turn of events, we had the answer: yes. The U.S. did exactly that at the end of July, agreeing to release five Taliban terrorists we’ve been holding at Guantanamo, in order to jumpstart the initiative – mainly ours – for talks with the Taliban.
Daniel Greenfield points out at FrontPage that in June, the Taliban offered to exchange U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl for the five Taliban at Gitmo. The Haqqani network of the Pakistan Taliban has been holding Bergdahl since late June or early July of 2009, shortly after he went missing close to Pakistan’s northwestern tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan.
But the Gitmo Five were released without an exchange for SGT Bergdahl taking place. This will have to be a blow to his family in Idaho (not to mention a blow to Bergdahl).
It will also be another blow to U.S. credibility, already on the ropes. It certainly dents the credibility of detention as a deterrent to terrorism. Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, had a hilariously timed oped in Friday’s Washington Post online in which he argued that the Obama administration should declare that the “war against al Qaeda” – yes, that al Qaeda; the one that has our embassies shut down across the Muslim world this weekend – is over. Instead of acting on a war footing and killing terrorists, says Mr. Roth, we should be going with President Obama’s own expressed preference to “detain, interrogate, and prosecute” them.
Now, I have been a critic myself of Obama’s overreliance on drone killings as a method. And detention and interrogation, while important for intelligence gathering, are not methods of deterrence, nor is prosecution. I don’t argue for them as a substitute for drone attacks.
I’m getting those points out of the way so we can focus on what matters here, which is that detention is as close to meaningless as makes no difference, if we’re just going to turn terrorists loose anyway, to everyone we might have a yen to have “talks” with. The Obama administration, just a few days before his oped appeared, provided Kenneth Roth with a conversation-stopping answer to his proposition that we should kill less and detain more. The answer leaves Roth in the dust: whether we stop killing terrorists or not, we should release the ones we have detained in order to get terrorists to have talks with us.
I guess, technically, there would be a purpose for detaining a few from time to time, on the assumption that we may want to have talks with their comrades in terror in the future. This kind of preemptive hostage-taking is gang-and-guerrilla behavior, of course. The degrees by which the mode of thinking shifts from “responsible statesman” to “mob boss” are not subtle here.
In any case, we can reassure Mr. Roth that the U.S. ended the war on terror in 2009. Perhaps that’s not the same thing as the “war against al Qaeda,” but in the latter regard, Roth would do well to try and keep up: al Qaeda has been “decimated” and has been “on the path to defeat” for a year or more, according to the Obama administration.
The die seems to be cast; we can at least hope that God really does watch out for fools, drunks, and the United States, because our president certainly isn’t doing it. Given the reigning jumble of confused soundbites and incoherent actions that now masquerades as U.S. policy on the global threat of terrorism, we may justly ask, with our former secretary of state: what difference, at this point, does it make?