This trade sets bad precedent

Published 10:09 pm Friday, June 6, 2014

By Rep. Randy Forbes

Sergeant Bergdahl is going home. But so are the Taliban.

The Obama administration’s decision to trade five detainees from the Guantanamo Bay detention center in exchange for POW Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has sparked concern and outrage across the country.

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It’s not hard to see why. The administration’s action violates a long-held principle that our government will not enter into negotiations with a terrorist organization. Such negotiations carry great risk.

In this particular case, the individuals in the exchange included senior Taliban leaders who, according to a 2008 Pentagon dossier, were known to be high risk for an attack on the U.S. if they were released. They will be held in Qatar for a year, but we know little about what will happen to them after that point.

Under the National Defense Authorization Act, the president is required to notify Congress in advance of freeing any detainee held at Guantanamo Bay. In this case, he did not.

The Administration has defended its decision, saying the president used a signing statement (a controversial tool used to oppose sections of a law) to allow himself the ability to circumvent the notification provision. Still, many question the legality of that action – including members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.

Beyond that, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in 2013, “As we have long said, however, we would not make any decisions about transfer of any detainees without consulting with Congress and without doing so in accordance with U.S. law.”

At best, the President went back on his word. At worst, he broke the law.

On one hand, the Bergdahl-Taliban trade seems to fit the administration’s method of operation. It is another bad decision in a string of very bad decisions. Too often, the American people have had to ask the questions: “Is this within the legal scope of the Presidency? How much did the Administration really know? And when?”

The situations that led to those questions — the Benghazi scandal, unilateral changes to the immigration and healthcare laws, the scandal at the IRS, manipulation at the VA — are bad enough. One by one, they have chipped away at what little trust remains in our government institutions.

A sitting president is supposed to be trustworthy, even if we disagree with him. We want our presidents to rise above, but at the very least, we expect them to be honest and uphold the law.

But the Bergdahl-Taliban case? It is more than erosion of trust. It’s more than carelessness. It’s more than a bad decision. It’s a dangerous decision that sets a terrible precedent.

The moment the Administration approved the trade of Taliban leaders for Sgt. Bergdahl, a message rang out to terrorist organizations around the world that you can kidnap Americans and the United States will do business with you.

It emboldened Islamic extremists. It added fuel to the idea that the ticket to getting what you want from our country is to play hardball with American lives. The Bergdahl-Taliban trade puts Americans around the world at risk.

Although we are glad to see any American released from the hands of enemy forces, the manner in which the deal was brokered is raising alarms across the country. In the coming weeks, we will learn more details about the case, including more about Sgt. Bergdahl himself, as well as the reasons that led to the administration’s decision for the trade. The Obama White House will have a lot of questions to answer.

One truth will hang over every question, every explanation and every detail of this case: Doing business with terrorists sets a precedent that we cannot afford.

Sergeant Bergdahl is going home. But so are the Taliban. And the question we must ask now is whether the trade was worth the lives it puts at stake.

Congressman J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website at