McCaul Op-Ed: Traded Taliban will return to the fight, a bad deal for U.S. (Houston Chronicle)
Houston Chronicle — By Michael McCaul
President Barack Obama's exchange of five dangerous Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp (Gitmo) for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was a bad deal. We should all question the president's judgment concerning this exchange because it put America on the same footing as the Taliban.
In June 2009, Bergdahl disappeared from his military outpost in Afghanistan and was either captured or walked into the waiting arms of the Taliban. I want to stress that it is vital that we leave no man behind, but it will be up to the military and the Uniform Code of Military Justice to determine if Bergdahl left his country behind. Our focus needs to be on the prisoners released from Gitmo.
The Obama administration first entered talks with the Taliban to negotiate Bergdahl's release in exchange for high-level Taliban detainees in 2010. Retired Maj. Gen. Jay Hood, who commanded Joint Task Force Guantanamo and spoke personally with each of the released prisoners, stated, "Such a move represents a mind-numbing ignorance of the potential threat posed by those we are holding."
While knowing many in Congress opposed the exchange, President Obama moved forward and struck a deal with the Taliban. In doing so, the president disregarded a law requiring him to notify Congress 30 days prior to releasing Gitmo prisoners.
The bottom line is the president freed five of the worst terrorists we held; senior Taliban leaders who have helped kill thousands of people and led the fight against coalition forces in Afghanistan. Mohammad Fazl, Norullah Noori, Khairullah Khairkhwa, Abdul Haq Wasiq and Mohammad Nabi each have close ties to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and connections to al-Qaeda.
President Obama attempts to lessen the serious risk of the deal by saying the prisoners will be monitored by Qatar, where they are to remain for one year. However, we should question the Qataris' ability and desire to even monitor these terrorists, as the men are free to move about the country as they please.
The president's deal empowers and emboldens our enemies. It provides the Taliban a new sense of energy and legitimacy as they continue the fight in Afghanistan. Taliban leader Mullah Omar called the exchange a "huge and vivid triumph" and a "colossal victory." And another Taliban commander said the Taliban would "definitely" be inspired to kidnap others. Not surprisingly, one of the five, Noori, has already pledged to return to Afghanistan and kill Americans.
Beyond this dangerous release, I worry about future releases of those sworn to hate and kill Americans. Is "Warden" Obama just going to empty Gitmo or is there a plan? We know the majority of the remaining detainees are dangerous to the core. According to the director of National Intelligence, nearly one of every three of the 614 detainees already released from Gitmo has returned to violence. These are only the ones we are aware of, and I suspect the count is actually much higher.
The administration's actions could not come at a worse time for U.S. and NATO troops – as the president implements his time table for troop withdrawal, the Taliban just got an influx of experienced leaders.
This secret deal will also greatly harm the cumulative efforts and sacrifices our service members have made in Afghanistan over the years. Last month, I led a congressional delegation to Afghanistan, where we heard from our top leaders, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford and Ambassador James Cunningham. They are optimistic: The Afghan security forces are standing up to challenges, the recent elections were successful and Afghanistan looks forward to the next round of elections and a new president. The Obama administration is risking these hard-fought successes with the release of these dangerous leaders.
The president's exchange was a bad deal for America and is emblematic of the Obama administration's weak and misguided foreign policy. Though the administration might not want to believe it, the fact remains that al-Qaeda and its affiliates have metastasized, spread throughout the world and continue to threaten the homeland.
These five prisoners are terrorist leaders and are all but certain to rejoin the fight in Afghanistan and contribute to worldwide jihad, as the president has acknowledged. This is a serious issue and Congress must continue to press for answers from this administration that continues to disregard the rule of law.
Michael McCaul, a Republican representing Texas's 10th district in the U.S. House, is chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security.