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News Analysis: U.S. President in hot water over Taliban POW exchange

English.news.cn   2014-06-06 16:04:27

By Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, June 5 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama is getting heat from all sides for exchanging five terrorists for an American soldier over the weekend, spurring outrage from Republicans and some members of his own party alike.

In a move that has stirred controversy on both sides of the political isle, Obama traded five terrorists detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been in Afghanistan in Taliban hands for five years.

Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, expressed misgivings, saying that Obama broke the law by failing to first consult with congress.

"It comes to us with some surprise and dismay that the transfers went ahead with no consultation, totally not following law," Feinstein told reporters on Tuesday. "I think you can see that we're very dismayed about it."

Others are blasting Obama for establishing what they say is a dangerous precedent, arguing that the swap could spur the Taliban to take more U.S. hostages in hopes of securing the release of other captured terrorists.

Republican senator and former White House contender John McCain on Sunday said the five Taliban operatives were the "hardest of the hardcore" in an interview with CBS' Face the Nation, adding that the militants were "possibly responsible for the deaths of thousands."

Indeed, two of the radicals, Mullah Mohammad Fazl and Mullah Norullah Noori, are wanted by the United Nations for possible war crimes including the murder of thousands of Shi'ite Muslims. All of the five allegedly have ties to al-Qaeda, the infamous group that carried out the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Obama acknowledged that the returned radicals could kill again, but said he was guided by the military's policy of no-one left behind.

Lisa Curtis, senior research fellow for South Asia at the Heritage Foundation, told Xinhua the prisoner trade could provide a morale and operational boost for the Taliban.

"I think it will embolden and inspire them to have these top leaders released. And the second aspect is the operational boost this could give the Taliban, even though they will be in Qatar for the next year, they will still be able to provide military advice, they will be able to communicate with other Taliban leaders," said Curtis.

She added that some other terrorists released from Guantanamo Bay have gone back to the battlefield and been involved in attacks on U.S. forces.

Some experts said the prisoner swap was a nod to the president's liberal Democratic base, which wants to see Guantanamo Bay's prison facilities closed, as well as a bid to change the narrative amid a recent White House scandal involving the Veterans Affairs Department.

"Obama was being pounded on both sides by the Veterans Affairs scandal, and I think he tried to change the subject and pivot to something that would at least keep the Democratic base on his side," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua. "And one of the things the Democratic base does not like is the idea of Guantanamo Bay."

Indeed, Obama has long said he aimed to shutter detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, as detainees there can be held indefinitely without a trial, which many believe runs counter to rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

"Obama is concerned about his legacy and wants to say 'I ended two wars, and I left no troops behind on the battlefield,'" O'Connell added.

At a press conference Thursday in Brussels, Belgium, Obama reiterated the U.S. military's principle.

"We had a prisoner of war (POW) whose health had deteriorated and we were deeply concerned about -- and we saw an opportunity and we seized it," he said. "And I make no apologies for that," he said.

But adding to the controversy is that Bergdahl may have deserted his post, a detail that came to light about two days after a White House celebration of his release.

The news, if true, could land Obama in a heap of trouble, experts said, as the White House had described Bergdahl as a soldier who "served with honor."

"They were looking for a narrative changer and what they might have possibly opened up was Pandora's Box," O'Connell said.

Editor: Xiang Bo
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