The release of kidnapped U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only known U.S. prisoner of war in Afghanistan after five years in captivity has sparked controversy from some U.S. lawmakers who argue that U.S. policy does not negotiate with terrorists under any circumstances. However, U.S. history tells a very different story.
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the five prisoners exchanged for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl do not pose a national security threat to the U.S. in the eyes of the Obama administration. However, all five Gitmo detainees were deemed "high-risk" and "likely to pose a threat" by the Pentagon and held senior positions in the Taliban regime before it was toppled by a U.S. led coalition in 2001.
The Obama administration points out that the five prisoners are not being released, but rather transferred into the custody of officials from Qatar. The five detainees will be subject to security restrictions, including a one-year travel ban. The Pentagon says the vast majority of detainees leave Gitmo under a transfer, which means they are transported to another country that places them under some type of restrictions. Some are incarcerated in those countries because of criminal charges, while others face monitoring or travel limitations.
Republican leaders in the U.S. House and Senate have publicly criticized President Obama for violating the law by not informing Congress of the deal beforehand. Lawmakers argue that President Obama's decision weakened America's stance in the world and put U.S. troops at risk by showing terrorist organizations they can win concessions by kidnapping Americans.
International and national security experts like Bruce Hoffman, Director of Georgetown University's Center for Security Studies, point out that while the American government's "we do not negotiate with terrorists" policy is often repeated, it is done so as mantra more than fact."
"We have long negotiated with terrorists. Virtually every other country in the world has negotiated with terrorists despite pledges never to," Hoffman said. "We should be tough on terrorists, but not on our fellow countrymen who are their captives, which means having to make a deal with the devil when there is no alternative."
According to a U.S. government fact sheet, 520 suspected terrorists had been released or transferred from Guantanamo Bay by March 2009 -- while George W. Bush was president. A White House executive order issued on the second day of Obama's presidency read:
" The federal government has moved more than 500 such detainees from Guantanamo, either by returning them to their home country or by releasing or transferring them to a third country."
Previous U.S. Presidents that have negotiated with terrorists include President Reagan and President Carter. The Iran hostage crisis that started in the 1970's and eventually led to the release of 52 Americans. During the Iran-Contra affair in the mid-1980's, the U.S. government sold arms to Iran in part to win the release of U.S. hostages in Lebanon.
U.S. Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel described the move as a response to intelligence that detailed Bergdahl’s declining health. Hagel told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday:
"This was essentially an operation to save the life of Sgt. Bergdahl."
President Obama called the release a “reminder of America’s unwavering commitment to leave no man or woman on the battlefield.”