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Dealing with the Devil: Analyzing the Taliban Prisoner Exchange

Dealing with the Devil: Analyzing the Taliban Prisoner Exchange

By Christian Stellakis

Edited by Namitha Sadanand, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist

Dealing with the Devil is a dangerous ordeal. The offers are appealing, seductive even. Their allure, though, masks a malicious intent; there is risk and consequence that seek to capitalize on the slightest misstep or miscalculation. Noble intentions alone are insufficient; only through a rational analysis of the risks and benefits can disaster be avoided. Recently, the United States engaged in one such deal to retrieve an American soldier from enemy hands.

On May 31, the United States conducted a prisoner exchange to recover Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier who had reportedly been held captive by the Taliban since 2009. The exchange, authorized by the President of the United States, Barack Obama, secured the release of Bergdahl through the liberation of five high-ranking Taliban officials held in Guantanamo Bay. This decision unleashed a firestorm of controversy, with both Democrats and Republicans condemning the actions of the administration. Despite the mounting pressure, President Obama has maintained his resolve, making “absolutely no apologies”for bringing an American soldier home. The decision has been made and the deal struck. Now the question becomes, was it worth dealing with the Devil?

Supporters of the exchange have claimed victory in the simple notion that the life of an American prisoner of war was saved. In the words of the US National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Bergdahl was a soldier who served with “honor and distinction.”The Administration had both a duty and obligation to make sure Bergdahl returned home, regardless the cost. Simply stated, America does not leave soldiers behind. This idealism, despite its enticing nature, is a costly sentiment to maintain. By saving this one life, how many more has the United States endangered?

Sergeant Bergdahl, despite what some have argued, was not an honorable soldier. Following his disappearance in 2009, an investigation by the Pentagon concluded that Bergdahl walked away from his post, abandoning his duty and deserting his fellow soldiers. Many of Bergdahl’s platoon members have attested to this fact, embittered that Bergdahl’s actions cost the lives of American soldiers who were killed while searching for the absent sergeant. While the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s disappearance are not entirely relevant to the consequences of the prisoner exchange, they do erode the Administration’s initial argument for accepting the deal. Bergdahl renounced his status as a soldier when he deserted the army and endangered the lives of fellow men and women in uniform. Since he rejected his duty as a soldier, he has no right to be hailed or treated as one.

Regardless of the decision to recover Bergdahl, the prisoner exchange itself presents an array of risks and unintended consequences. Primarily, the prisoner exchange likely legitimized and reinvigorated the Taliban, a pseudo-terrorist organization that just recently was responsible for the murder of twenty-seven innocent people at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport. Through the prisoner exchange, the Taliban recovered five of their senior leaders, individuals known to have planned and coordinated attacks against the United States and its allies. These concessions can only undermine US security, both at home and abroad, creating greater risk for American soldiers and civilians. Leaders of the Taliban have heralded the prisoner exchange as a “great victory,”a stance that may embolden the Taliban and lead them to more aggressively engage in terrorist activities. By agreeing to negotiate with a known terrorist organization such as the Taliban, the United States has weakened its position against terrorism by tacitly acknowledging the Taliban’s legitimacy as a governmental authority.

Additionally, it is possible that the released detainees will rejoin the Taliban and once again present a serious threat to America’s national security. By releasing the five men, the United States must deal with the very real possibility that they will again rejoin the fight against the West, thus endangering the lives of others. Consequently, more American soldiers would necessarily be put at risk in an attempt to apprehend or eliminate the Taliban leaders.

Although these arguments are, by nature, speculative, that by no means detracts from their veracity. To properly gauge the wisdom of a particular decision, the potential risks must be enumerated to accurately reflect the choice at hand. Although the initial purpose of the Taliban prisoner exchange was to save the life of an American soldier, the potential unintended consequences, so often found in dealings with the Devil, makes the decision likely to cost more lives than it saves.

Christian is a Junior at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. As an honors student and member of the Dean’s List, Christian is pursuing a degree in Economics and Government. He was accepted into Hamilton after graduating Valedictorian of Chittenango High School, where he served as the Opinion Editor for the school newspaper. Christian is an avid member of the Hamilton College Debate Society and a frequent contributor to the political discourse at the college.

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