President Barack Obama apparently traded five jailed jihadis held in Guantanamo for one American soldier, despite federal law, which requires Congress to be notified before prisoners are transferred.
Obama used a Rose Garden press event to tout the surprise trade — which he won by making critical, last-minute concessions — while the parents of the freed soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, stood alongside.
At the end of the brief event, the soldier’s father, Bob Bergdahl, recited the most frequent phrase in the Koran — “Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim” —which means “In the name of Allah, most Gracious, most Compassionate.”
After Bergdahl finished his statement and his praise for Allah, Obama hugged him.
The Taliban echoed Bergdahl, saying the trade happened “due to the benevolence of Allah Almighty and the sacrifices of the heroic and courageous Mujahidin of the Islamic Emirate.”
The United States intervened in Afghanistan in 2001 to topple the Taliban’s Islamic theocracy, which sheltered al Qaida’s jihadis during their preparation for the 9/11 atrocity and afterwards.
However, Obama has repeatedly argued that al Qaida are “extremists” — not Islamists. He has redefined the campaign as only a war against al Qaida — not the Taliban — and has repeatedly announced he intends to end the campaign, regardless of the consequences.
The five jihadis released by Obama are senior leaders of the Taliban. One is the former head of the Taliban’s army.
They were released by Obama from the secure Guantanamo prison to the custody of the United Arab Emirates.
White House officials acknowledged that the sudden trade violated a federal law requiring a 30-day notice to Congress before prisoners are transferred.
“The administration determined that given these unique and exigent circumstances, such a transfer should go forward notwithstanding the notice requirement,” officials told media outlets.
GOP leaders of the House and Senate armed services committees criticized the trade.
“In executing this transfer, the President also clearly violated laws which require him to notify Congress thirty days before any transfer of terrorists from Guantanamo Bay and to explain how the threat posed by such terrorists has been substantially mitigated,” said the statement from California Rep. Buck McKeon, and Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe.
“America has maintained a prohibition on negotiating with terrorists for good reason,” they said.
“Trading five senior Taliban leaders from detention in Guantanamo Bay for Berghdal’s release may have consequences… Our terrorist adversaries now have a strong incentive to capture Americans [which] will put our forces in Afghanistan and around the world at even greater risk,” said the statement.
During recent negotiations, Obama agreed to exclude the Afghan government from the negotiations, and to drop a U.S. condition that the prisoners be released over a period of time, officials told reporters.
Since his son was captured in 2009, Bergdahl has conducted his own outreach to the captors, who are an ally of the Taliban, the Haqqani tribal group. He has also included Islamic phrases in his videos, such as “As-salamu alaykum” which is a religious greeting exchanged between observant Muslims.
Although Bergdahl quoted the Quran verse, the White House transcript did not translate it or even include the Islamic prayer.
Instead, the transcript simply said Bergdahl spoke in the Pasho language, which is the language of the Pushtun tribe, which forms the vast majority of the Taliban force. In fact, “Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim” is Arabic.
Since 2001, 2,323 U.S. soldiers have been killed by the Taliban and allied jihadis, including the Haqqani group.
Last week, Obama announced he would remove all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, even though Taliban forces have continued their offensive agains the weak central government, and have refused to break their alliance with al Qaida.
“We’re committed to winding down the war in Afghanistan,” Obama said at the Rose Garden event.
More than 1,300 U.S. soldiers have been killed since Obama added troops to the campaign in late 2009.
During the press event, Obama did not acknowledge the jihad motivation of al Qaida and the Taliban. Instead, he portrayed Bergdahl’s capture in non-military sentimental terms.
“Sergeant Bergdahl has missed birthdays, and holidays and simple moments with family and friends which all of us take for granted. But while Bowe was gone, he was never forgotten— not by his family or his hometown in Idaho, or the military,” he said.
In his Rose Garden speech, Obama initially suggested that Bergdahl was rescued by a military operation directed by himself, evoking the successful killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011.
“As Commander-in-Chief, I am proud of the service members who recovered Sergeant Bergdahl and brought him safely out of harm’s way.”
But he then thanked diplomats before describing the trade as a “part of this effort.”
“I’m also grateful for the tireless work of our diplomats, and for the cooperation of the government of Qatar in helping to secure Bowe’s release… As part of this effort, the United States is transferring five detainees from the prison in Guantanamo Bay to Qatar,” he stated.
“The Qatari government has given us assurances that it will put in place measures to protect our national security,” Obama continued.
According to the Washington Post, the five released Taliban leaders will face a one-year travel ban.
Obama announced the choreographed swap in a Rose Garden press event, some 28 years after President Ronald Reagan was excoriated for trying to bargain for the release of several U.S. hostages held in Lebanon.