The Obama administration is struggling to explain how their deal to release five top-ranking Taliban in exchange for captured Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl does not violate the U.S. prohibition on negotiating with terrorists, splitting hairs and contradicting one another in deliberations over whether Bergdahl was a “hostage” or a “prisoner of war.”
On Sunday, White House national security advisor Susan Rice appeared on ABC’s “This Week” to explain why the trade does not mean America is now open to negotiating with terrorist groups.
“This is a very special situation,” she told George Stephanopoulos. “Sgt. Bergdahl wasn’t simply a hostage, he was an American prisoner of war captured on the battlefield. We have a sacred obligation that we have upheld since the founding of our republic to do our utmost to bring back our men and women who were taken in battle. And we did that in this instance.”
Leaving aside the growing probability that Bergdahl was not “taken in battle,” but instead deserted his post, Rice seems to be arguing that his status as a prisoner of war trumps his status as a terrorist hostage, thus transforming the Taliban and their terrorist allies in the Haqqani Network into legitimate partners in negotiation.
White House press secretary Jay Carney doubled down on that characterization this morning, even contradicting Rice by refusing to identify Bergdahl as a “hostage” altogether.
“Why parse words and have the secretary of defense say, ‘We didn’t negotiate with terrorists?’” CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked Carney.
“The fact is he was held in an armed conflict by the Taliban, we were engaged in an armed conflict with the Taliban,” Carney shot back, “and we have a history in this country of making sure that our prisoners of war are returned to us. We don’t leave them behind.”
“He was not a hostage, he was a prisoner,” Carney added.