Saturday, June 14, 2014

Welcome Home, Sgt. Bergdahl

"Americans Welcome Sgt. Bergdahl Home"
2014-06-03 by Tom Hayden []:
(Photo: A still from a video released by the Taliban of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held captive since 2009)

After the negotiated release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, I called an old friend who spent years as a POW in Vietnam's prison camps to ask for his response. Preferring to keep his name out of the papers for the moment, he was following the situation closely. In summary though, what he said was as follows:
First, the Pentagon will debrief Bergdahl for as long as two weeks, eight hours per day, assuming they follow protocols used in Vietnam.
Second, after debriefing, the Pentagon team will take on crisis management, how to shape and control Bergdahl's narrative, whether to ignore criticism about his anti-war statements made in captivity or even to blame Bergdahl. "They did the same kind of thing with us."
Third, "so far, they are not into punishing him."
Fourth, that is because, "Public opinion so far is solidly behind him,” and therefore, "It won't help to play that card." My POW friend thinks most Americans will be supportive of him whatever the facts turn out to be because, "People are sick of the war."
If the political right "tries anything, people will need to speak out" he added.
Already there is grumbling among Republicans, neo-conservatives, and within the armed forces about Bergdahl's statements, and rumors that he went AWOL. It is likely that Fox News will fan the flames.
Before a storm gathers against Bergdahl, some facts are in order.
Bergdahl could have been released in the same prisoner swap nearly three years ago, but the Republican-led opposition scuttled the deal by opposing, "negotiating with terrorists." See the New York Times account of the suspension of secret talks between the US and the Taliban in March 2012, published December 20, 2012 []. Those talks held in Paris included US and French officials, a Taliban delegation and Abdullah Abdullah, then a CIA-supported leader of the Northern Alliance, who currently is poised to become Afghanistan's new president.
According to the December 2012 account, the deal was aborted, "after the Obama administration failed to push through a proposed prisoner swap, which was to be the first of a series of confidence-building measures." That left Bergdahl stranded alone for another three years.
By early 2014 American officials were outraged to learn that Karzai himself was opening secret talks with the Taliban with the US and NATO excluded. Then Karzai released 72 Taliban, "Accused of having American blood on their hands," asserting that evidence of their crimes was lacking. Over strong Pentagon objections, a Karzai commission released 560 other Taliban prisoners in mid-to late 2013. Not only did Karzai wish to curry favor with the Taliban but, "He could punish the United States for what he considered its insincere effort to initiate peace talks," according to the New York Times [].
Bergdahl therefore was a pawn who survived in complete isolation for over three years during political games from Washington to Kabul. Does anyone seriously believe he could have survived captivity if he was in a constant state of rage against his captors? Isn't it possible he developed a certain level of understanding, even empathy, towards those holding him hostage?
The truth may never come out, or be too complicated for many to fathom, but it should not be politicized to score points by Republicans who refuse to agree with Obama on anything. Republicans stalled the diplomatic process that could have brought Bergdahl home in 2013, presumably in much better health [] (scroll down when visiting the link).
To remember is important. In 1967, for example, I became involved in a release of three American POWs from the jungle camps of South Vietnam. I accompanied the three soldiers straight from their captivity, similar to Bergdahl's fate, though they were not alone, on planes from Phnom Penh through Lebanon and Paris to New York's JFK airport. In those three strange days I got to know the men very well. One of them, Ed Johnson, an Army soldier, was ill with a jungle disease and died a few years later. Another was an African-American Green Beret, James Jackson, who operated on the Ho Chi Minh trail until his capture. He retired into a medical practice and never spoke publicly about his feelings, except on one occasion when he came to Sacramento and he defended me against Republican charges that I was a traitor who should be expelled from the legislature. The third POW, Daniel Pitzer, soon became an outspoken crusader against communism, the Vietnamese, and all "traitors". A favorite of the Nixon White House, he even threw out first pitches at major league baseball games.
That strident Pitzer was concealing something he told me on the long trip home. He taught English to his Vietnamese captors, which at the time was a breach of the military code of conduct. His militant anti-communism was related somehow to his fear of being accused of being soft on the Vietcong. I was glad he survived.
I do not know, but I suspect that Vietnam veteran and now Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel helped guide Obama through the currents of spin to arrive at a sound decision in this case. An important precedent has been set, that under certain circumstances the United States should engage in trade-offs with opposing forces. Only an irrational rigidity, for example, is preventing Obama from organizing an exchange of three imprisoned Cubans, part of the Cuban 5, for Alan Gross, a US AID contractor jailed in Havana for having secretly smuggled communications equipment to groups opposed to the Castro government. The American Right insists that Gross be released unconditionally by the Cubans and rants against any thought of a negotiated outcome. If the Right succeeds in damaging Obama for bringing home Bergdahl, it will make arranging the release of Alan Gross all the more difficult.
However, going forward we have lost over three years. The US never should have started the Afghanistan War and never should have avoided the domestic consequences of talking with the Taliban. Now Obama is promising to end this war, see the White House charts that accompanied his speech [], it is vital that the prisoner swap be a springboard for talks with the Taliban about power sharing. Obama might be able to secure a commitment to prevent what he fears most, a new sanctuary in Afghanistan for attacks against the US. The Taliban, who are at least as divided as the US government, should avoid the fatal mistake of triumphalism, which will lead to civil war and a possible American return via airstrikes, settle for a base in its southern and eastern heartland, internationalize Kabul, and invest in development for the next generation.

"Welcome home Bowe Bergdahl! End the war! Rally outside the White House counters right-wing hysteria"
2014-06-10 from "International ANSWER" []:
(Photo: Mike Wang)

A wide range of anti-war activists gathered outside the White House June 10 to fight back against the right-wing hysteria demonizing recently released prisoner of war Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, and to demand an end to the war in Afghanistan and the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison. Sponsors of the rally included the ANSWER Coalition, CODEPINK, March Forward!, Imam Mahdi Bray, Veterans for Peace and Col. Ann Wright. A demonstration also occurred that day in Los Angeles.
Speakers denounced the enormous hypocrisy of the right wing, who endlessly claim that they “support the troops” but engaged in a mad rush to demonize Bergdahl as soon as it was politically expedient. Because Bergdahl was critical of the brutality and senselessness of the war in Afghanistan, and because his return home involved the release of five men held indefinitely in the notorious Guantanamo Bay torture center, he suddenly became a “traitor” rather than a hero.
Eugene Puryear of the ANSWER Coalition opened up the demonstration by announcing that, “We’re here to welcome Bowe Bergdahl home and call for the return of every other U.S. soldier involved in this war that has caused so much suffering.” Imam Mahdi Bray led the crowd in chants of “Welcome home Bowe, close Guantanamo!”
Dr. Margaret Flowers of Popular Resistance drew attention to the relationship between the attacks on the people of Afghanistan and the suffering poor and working people in the United States, saying, “There is also a war going on against the people of this country.”
A large number of media outlets sent reporters to cover the action. While the war mongers have made a lot of noise over the past few days, the people’s voice is beginning to be heard!

"The real crime in the Bergdahl-Taliban prisoner swap; Holding prisoners indefinitely in Gitmo torture center is a crime against humanity"
2014-06-05 statement from March Forward! []:
Hundreds, such as these prisoners at Guantanamo, have been held in the notorious torture center for years without the U.S. government ever finding any crime to charge them with.

The right wing is making a big deal out of the fact that five Taliban officials were released to retrieve captured U.S. Army infantryman Bowe Bergdahl.
They shriek: “How many soldiers did they kill?”
The answer is none, actually.
None of them were picked up in battle. In the 12 years they were held in Guantanamo, they were never charged with any crime.
If there was even the smallest bit of evidence that they were connected to attacks that killed U.S. soldiers, wouldn’t they have been charged by the scandalous detention facility already struggling to justify holding its captives?
The five people released were held hostage and tortured for 12 years. But for the right wing, their release, and not this abuse, is the crime against humanity.
Of the 779 people who have been held at Guantanamo, over 600 have been released without the U.S. government being able to find a way to charge them—after years of digging hard for any excuse, through brutality and humiliation.
Guantanamo is considered an illegal torture center by the United Nations. Amidst worldwide disgust, then-candidate Obama said “we’re going to close Guantanamo. And we’re going to restore habeas corpus.” Congress has fought this at every turn and Obama has refused to use his executive authority to make it happen.
Washington has been playing politics with the lives of hundreds of its hostages and torture victims at Guantanamo. That is the real crime.
Anti-war veterans and service members say: Close Guantanamo now!

"Welcome home Bowe Bergdahl"

Rally in front of the White House against the war in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay prison
Tuesday, June 10, 2014, 4:00 p.m. at the The White House
(Bowe Bergdahl with his mother)

The chest thumping, right-wing, mega-millionaires in Congress have spent the past days beating up on and creating hatred against Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only American Prisoner of War (POW) in the Afghanistan War.
After five years in captivity, Bergdahl was finally set free last week in an exchange between the U.S. government and the Taliban. He was exchanged for five officials of the Afghan government that was toppled when the U.S. invaded in 2001. Like most other inmates in Guantanamo, these men had been held for a decade without ever having had charges placed against them.
Why has Bergdahl been subjected to so much hatred? One would think that an American POW's release would be a cause of celebration and relief. Why, at the moment of his release, was he instantaneously subjected to a nationwide campaign to brand him a "traitor" and caricature him with unsubstantiated allegations by these right-wing demagogues whose usual pose is to wrap themselves in the flag while expressing their undying love for “our troops?”
The right-wing's disgusting campaign was motivated by two factors:
* Sgt. Bergdahl seems to have written letters home before his capture that expressed a growing disenchantment with the U.S. war effort and with the brutality and racism he saw perpetuated against people in Afghanistan.
* It was President Obama that secured the release of Bergdahl following a long and protracted negotiation with Taliban officials. In the months before he was released, Sen. John “I never met a war I didn't like” McCain demanded that Obama win Bergdahl's release. The moment Bergdahl was freed McCain and the rest of the wolf pack hit the talk shows to further their right-wing agenda by denouncing the treachery of “negotiating” with the “terrorists.”
Join us on Tuesday, June 10 at 4:00 p.m. in front of the White House (1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW) and let your voice be heard. The right-wing militarists and war mongers have been dominating the media. It is time for the people to be heard. Instead of demonizing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl we will say welcome home!
It is the war in Afghanistan that is a criminal enterprise. The politicians are sending young people in the U.S. armed forces to kill and be killed in a war that they have known cannot be won because the Afghan people will never live under foreign occupation.
The Obama administration has not kept its promise to close the Guantanamo torture facility, which he said he would do when he took office in 2009. Instead of using his executive authority to close a facility that the United Nations has declared a torture center, he has sought to appease his right-wing critics at home. He will never appease them!
The time to act is now. We need to end the occupation of Afghanistan!
Sponsors: ANSWER Coalition, Veterans for Peace, March Forward!, CODEPINK, Imam Mahdi Bray, Col. Ann Wright and others
On the same day (Tuesday, June 10), a demonstration will be held in downtown Los Angeles against the war and the right wing's attacks on Bowe Bergdahl at 4:00 p.m. at the Federal Building (255 East Temple Street).

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