Civil Discourse Now

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More than a trade of baseball cards---five Taliban for Sergeant Bergdahl and a player to be named later.

   Each summer during college I worked for my old man’s construction company as a go-fer. Ours was a union sheet metal shop. Because I was immediat4e family of a shop owner, I could handle sheet metal, but basically I drove, delivered, beat holes through concrete walls, dug ditches, and even crawled around in the air ducts of a factory that used asbestos to manufacture brake linings.
   One guy with whom I worked was a veteran of the Korean Conflict. “War” never was declared by the United States against our opponents in Korea. The military engagement from 1950 to 1953 was titled a “police action.” People who fought there, or the civilians who lived there, experienced the same fates as if the excursion had been formally declared “war.”
   I also watched re-runs of “M*A*S*H” during that time. I remember one episode in which Hawkeye becomes angry with a United States Army colonel who has a standing policy that no person under his command will be left in the field—i.e., if someone got killed, other men would go into the hills or wherever and retrieve the body. Hawkeye does not understand this policy, implicitly on the bases of cost-benefits and risks. The salvage of one dead body does not seem worth the risk of lives of those who go to bring that body back.
   The commander of the unit of the guy with whom I worked had the same policy as the fictionalized colonel in that episode of “M*A*S*H.” The guy explained to me that the policy was very important to him and the other guys in his unit. “We knew if anything happened to us, we wouldn’t be left out there but would be brought back home.”
   This weekend President Obama arranged a swap of five Taliban prisoners for whom I understand to be the only U.S. military person held as a prisoner in Afghanistan. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl had been held for over five years. There are several important points and questions to address and answer.
   1) Republicans have little credibility about illegal swaps for prisoners or release of detainees from Gitmo. Ronald Reagan—or those acting with his power of attorney—made a bunch of swaps, some before he even was in office. They swapped missiles to Iran for release of hostages and weapons for information. George W. Bush released over 500 detainees from Gitmo. Either those people had been detained mistakenly and in violation at least of principles of what we should consider justice, or he did the same thing President Obama has done.
   2) If these five Taliban prisoners are really that important, I doubt they will last long out there in the field. I do not agree with the use of drones, but as prevalent as that use is, the released individuals will be “dropped” pretty quickly. The United States probably—spoiler alert! I am absolutely certain the Taliban never thought of this (sarcasm)—has the ability to track the individuals with some sort of nano-techno gear, better than National Geographic can track a humpback whale. If that’s the case, the individuals’ release will provide the United States with more intelligence than their continued incarceration without trial.
   3) Several members of Sergeant Bergdahl’s unit were wounded or killed in the fight to prevent his capture. Some now believe he wanted only to desert. This must be investigated. Shortly before his capture—innocent until proven guilty, I think even under the Uniform Code of Military Justice—Sergeant Bergdahl sent e-mails to his parents, disparaging over the United States involvement in Afghanistan. He expressed shame in being an American. His beliefs at that point were his right to hold. A lot of people become anti-war after service in front lines of the military. If, on the other hand, he deserted and people in his unit were killed, there would be serious articles for court martial to be filed against him. Those are properly brought by the Judge Advocate of the branch of the military of which he is a member—not by members of Congress.
   4) A “bottom line” is he is a member of our armed forces. He was in “enemy” hands. President Obama was right to make a trade about which he had consulted members of Congress.
   We shall see how the investigations play out. We also shall see how quickly the five for whom the sergeant was traded are killed or how many Taliban are rounded up in the next few months thanks to whatever was done.

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