Editorial: Prisoner swap raises questions

00:25, Jun 03 2014

Barack Obama assumed power five years ago on a tidal wave of support that swept around the globe. The first black United States president seemed ready, willing and very able to make the world a better place.

All but the most entrenched Republicans believed in the power of his rhetoric. However, though his presidency has not been an abject failure, he has delivered less than his early promise suggested.

After just two days in office, Obama signed an executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre within one year. That was on January 22, 2009. Today, the controversial US military-run prison in Cuba, where terrorist suspects have been held without charge is still open, though only a few of its 800-odd peaktime roll remain.

The number has just gone down by another five, thanks to a secretive prisoner swap authorised by Obama. The president over the weekend signed off a deal releasing five Taliban detainees in exchange for the only American prisoner of the Afghan war, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held for five years.

The political fallout was immediate, and predictable. Obama ignored US law in approving a prisoner-exchange without giving Congress the expected 30-day notice.

The consequent political opportunities that offers aside, the most obvious area of concern is that a government which "does not negotiate with terrorists" clearly does, in some circumstances. Ronald Reagan, for example, exchanged arms for hostages with rogue state Iran. Surely this will encourage other groups to consider kidnapping US soldiers or even citizens in order to gain leverage.


There is also the matter of those who have been freed from "Gitmo". Those who remain were supposed to be the most hardened and potentially dangerous to the West. Now, we find it is OK to release five high-level Talibans, who are not considered a significant threat to US interests. What's really going on?

Are Bergdahl, and the five Afghans, mere pawns in a behind-the-scenes political "realignment" which will ultimately see the US establishing a working relationship with the Taliban - up till now regarded as a bitter enemy?

It is clear that the fundamentalist Islamic group is a political force with a strong hand to play in Afghanistan. More, they are important to the overall security of the area, with the US finally winding down its involvement in this long-running conflict.

Adding to the intrigue is speculation that Bergdahl had grown disillusioned with the US war effort in Afghanistan and walked from his unit before his capture.

Regardless of that, we can all feel empathy with his parents who have fought for his release for five years, and understand their relief and joy. However, all actions have their consequences. Whether this is just one move on the global chessboard with plenty yet to come, or an endgame in itself, remains to be seen.

The Nelson Mail