Tuesday, June 10, 2014

President Obama, please pardon Bowe Bergdahl

Republican politicians and pundits are suffering from President Obama's refusal to promote any more legislation in the US Congress. For months, Republicans have made political hay by opposing any proposal made or only mentioned by the Obama administration. Finally, however, Obama gave up. This left a big hole in the Republican propaganda machine.

Republicans have tried to fill this gaping hole by having several committees investigate the assassination of a US Ambassador in Benghazi, Libya. These investigations reek from the stench of desperation. Obama is not playing the congressional game. He's giving them nothing to rant about because he's just ignoring.

Worse yet, the things Republicans do rant about are going south. Republicans are still attacking the Affordable Care Act, but their failure in the states to accept free Medicaid is leading to increasing state medical costs, avoidable deaths, and funding of medicaid in blue states by taxpayers in red states. Even if the Affordable Care Act is terrible--and a lot of things about it are terrible--there is no alternative. It's all we've got.

So it was fairly predictable that Republicans would attack Obama over the release of Bowe Bergdahl. They need to appear on TV with something to say instead of just staring into the cameras. Now they can say that (1) the president should not have negotiated for Bergdahl's release, (2) the president should not have simultaneously released 5 Taliban soldiers, and (3) the president should have informed Congress 30 days before releasing Guantanamo prisoners into foreign countries.

The trouble with those arguments is that they are awkward to defend. The US has always exchanged prisoners of war, especially after the war is over. The armed forces have a long standing policy never to leave a US soldier behind in enemy hands. After the Vietnam War was over, Republicans and unscrupulous profiteers made political hay for decades because there were still POWs in Vietnam. "Bring back our boys!" was their rallying cry. It resonated with every ex-gi and every wife and mother of a soldier.  Now the shoe is on the other foot. Conservatives are saying, "You should have left him there!" It doesn't have the same heroic appeal. Patriots will not fight under that flag.

Republicans object that the 5 prisoners we released from Guantanamo are dangerous Taliban operatives. This is actually the best argument they have. Those prisoners may in fact be deadly killers. On the other hand, it's extremely unlikely the Taliban could not find replacements in Afghanistan. These guys are not nuclear scientists or Rambo. They're just ordinary fighters from a low-tech army. If we wanted to harm the Taliban recruiting program, we should not have gone to Afghanistan in the first place. Since Osama Bin Laden was found and executed in Pakistan, the original premise for invading Afghanistan has vanished. Just like the original premise for invading Iraq.

Conservatives also say that President Obama broke the law by failing to inform Congress of his plans. This is an extremely weak argument for the party that advocated torturing captives and sending captives to foreign countries so they could quietly be tortured or even killed. We're not talking torture here, nor are we talking about trading arms for hostages, as Right-wing poster boy Ollie North did back in 1973. We're talking about bringing an American POW home after the war is over. If it is ever right for the President to break the law, this would be a good place to start because you would be hard-pressed to find someone who disagrees with him.

We saw that movie. It was called Saving Private Ryan. After Tom Hanks and 6 members of his rescue team died to rescue a single US soldier, everyone cried. I cried. Republicans really don't want to go down that road.

It wasn't until several years after the Vietnam War was over that President Carter pardoned draft resisters so that they could lead normal lives. Bergdahl may be guilty of going AWOL or desertion. Going AWOL is a minor offense, usually punishable by less than 30 days confinement. Most cases of desertion carry a penalty of 5 years confinement or less. There is no indication that Bergdahl deserted. In any case, it is impossible to know whether Bergdahl would have returned to base (as he had done twice before) because the Taliban captured him and held him for 6 years.

Bergdahl has already served 6 years in confinement. President Obama should follow up his courageous decision to exchange Bergdahl by pardoning him of any and all crimes he may have committed. That would be a real act of heroism.

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