My post on the Bergdahl affair
was among the least popular pieces ever to appear here. Naturally, I'm anxious to jump into the pool again. Whenever this blog manages to piss off everyone on every side, I'm a happy man.
(Thanks, incidentally, to the reader who pointed out my earlier misspelling of the name "Bergdahl." These things happen. Lots of people spell my own name as though I were a certain type of camera, and lots of people spell the camera's name as though it keeps a blog.)
First off, let's look at the most questionable part of the story.
Was John McCain right when he said that the Taliban fighters released from Gitmo were the worst of the worst, the scummiest of the scum, the gnarliest of the gnarly, the jihadi-est of the jihadis?
You must understand that Bergdahl was taken by the Haqqani network, which is not the same thing as the Taliban. In fact, the two groups are reportedly at odds
with other. From everything we've learned about the Haqqanis, they're more akin to the local mafia -- in other words, they are all about the money. One wonders, then, why the Haqqanis would care so much about five guys associated with the Taliban.
Some of the articles I've seen have presumed that what really freed Bergdahl was a secret pay-off, not a prisoner release. That notion makes sense to me.
So who were those five guys who got out of Gitmo? Why them?
We learn a fair amount about the five from Politifact
and from the L.A. Times
. We learn a lot more from their secret DOD files, which Wikileaks has kindly provided. (Thank you, Julian!)
Turns out that we're talking about five guys that the administration might actually want
to see freed. As in: Out, about, and working for us -- or at least, for nations we consider regional allies.
The "fab five" are supposed to be held in Qatar for a year, unable to travel. But who will oversee that arrangement? Who is in a position to tell the Qataris what to do? As far as we know, the Qataris may put them into circulation on various battlefronts.
And even if they stay in Qatar for a while, remember -- Qatar is where the US has a program to train the Syrian rebels
Now let's take a closer look at the fab five:
Mullah Mohammad Fazl
has been linked to Al Qaeda, and has battled the Northern Alliance. But documents released by Wikileaks reveal that he is also "wanted by the UN for possible war crimes including the murder of thousands of Shiites."
In case you haven't noticed, much of what is happening today in Syria, Iraq and Iran is an intra-Islamic religious war between the Sunnis (backed by our allies, Saudi Arabia and Qatar) and the Shiites. Assad of Syria is an Alawite; the Alawites are a mystical offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Thus, Mullah Mohammad Fazl could easily be of use to "our" side in Syria. Or in Iraq, which has turned into another Sunni-Shiite battlefield. Or in Iran, a Shiite nation that the neocons have targeted for regime change.
The Syrian civil war has taught us that the neocons are perfectly willing to work with Al Qaeda-linked jihadis when doing so serves a larger strategic interest.
Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa
, reportedly a close Bin Laden associate, has an interesting background. As governor of Herat province, he ran the opium operations in western Afghanistan.
Complicating matters somewhat, Khairkhwa was in discussions with the family of post-war Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, a longtime friend, about possibly cooperating with the new government when he was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and brought to Guantanamo.
I strongly suspect that the word "family" in the above passage should be taken as a reference to Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Hamid. Until his death in 2011, Ahmed Wali was the true ruler of Kandahar, and the greatest opium warlord in the country. The CIA considered him their most important asset in Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, Ahmed Wali proved uncontrollable. His mercurial nature may explain why, in July, 2011, he was shot in the head by one of his best friends (who was then killed by the warlord's bodyguards).
The Taliban took responsibility for the hit. Maybe they did
do it. Or maybe the CIA did it. Or maybe the assassin was (as some have alleged) a drug-addled lone nut.
If you think the Taliban killed Ahmed Wali Karzai, then you have to ask yourself why the Taliban would ask for the release of Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa. He was a close associate of the Karzai family.
See the problem? Something here does not add up!
Our media refers to Khairkhwa as a Taliban warrior. But he actually connects up with the Karzais -- with the people who replaced
the Taliban when we showed up.
Mullah Norullah Noori
is much like Fazl. According to the "liberated" DOD file...
Detainee was also the Taliban governor for the Balkh and Laghman provinces and is wanted by the United Nations (UN) for possible war crimes including the murder of thousands of Shiite Muslims.
Another governor! And his buddy Muhammad Razaq was still another head honcho in the drug trade.
Detainee was implicated in the murder of thousands of Shiites in northern Afghanistan during the Taliban reign. When asked about the murders, detainee and AF-007 did not express any regret and stated they did what they needed to do in their struggle to establish their ideal state.
So what we have here is a zealot who has proved his eagerness to murder all non-Sunni Muslims. Could such a man be of use in Syria, Iraq or Iran?
Abdul Haq Wasiq
was a young man who somehow contrived to become the Deputy to the Taliban's chief spook. Some sources say that he eventually became the de facto head spy.
From the L.A. Times:
After the U.S.-led invasion, Wasiq offered his help to U.S. forces in locating the Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, but was arrested instead.
He "offered his help"...? And instead of taking that help, the U.S. arrested
Sounds a little odd. And the story told in his DOD file
(from 2008) is no less odd.
Mohammad Nabi Omari
was a former anti-Soviet fighter who settled down to become -- I'm not kidding -- a used car salesman. Guess who dragged him back into the world of intrigue
In the spring of 2002, detainee’s friend, Nasir, introduced detainee to a CIA operative named Mark. Mark provided detainee $500 US and a cell phone, and tasked him to find Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Muhammad Omar. Mark instructed detainee to travel to Pakistan and contact an informant named Mullah Abdul Kabir who would lead him to Mullah Omar Muhammad.7 Since detainee was unsuccessful in finding Mullah Omar Muhammad, Mark requested detainee provide information on al-Qaida members. In response, detainee informed Mark of a man named Hamid Khan, the one al-Qaida member detainee knew, who had tried to persuade detainee to poison Americans using an unidentified white powder. Detainee and Mark met four to five times at the old Khowst airport to exchange information.
When summoned one final time to that airport to meet with "Mark," the Americans arrested him. Maybe Mark got pissed off at Omari's crappy intelligence haul.
Poor bastard. He would have been better off if he had stuck to the used car trade.
The military interrogators doubted Omari's tale about "Mark," although it seems credible enough to me. The DOD file recounts the "Mark" story as though it were unquestionably true.
It should be noted that Omari and Wasiq did have links to Jalaludin Haqqani, founder of the Haqqani network. The others may have had their own connections to that network.
But those links do not appear to have been particularly deep or profound. I still favor the argument that the Haqqani network must have received a secret monetary pay-off in exchange for Bergdahl.
The point is, all five of these guys have backgrounds indicating that they might be willing to help "our" side -- or at least the Sunni side -- in (say) the Syrian rebellion, or in some other theater of war.
Even my regular readers scoffed at my suggestion that this fellow went AWOL as part of a spy mission. Many progressives were quite smitten with the Bergdahl one meets in that famous Michael Hastings article, in which the young soldier writes to his parents and expresses his disillusionment with the effort in Afghanistan.
But seen in the light of current events, the Hastings piece seems rather odd. For one thing, it doesn't explain why the released Bergdahl won't talk to his family -- not even on the phone. (Or so reports the WSJ
. If you find yourself stuck behind a paywall, head here
Frankly, I'm beginning to doubt the story that Hastings whipped up. According to the NYT
His former platoon mates gave sharply contradictory accounts of how Sergeant Bergdahl viewed the war, and America’s proper role in it.
To many of those soldiers, Sergeant Bergdahl was viewed as standoffish or eccentric, smoking a pipe instead of spitting tobacco, as so many soldiers do, and reading voraciously when others napped or watched videos. But he was not isolated from his platoon mates, some said. And while he was, like other soldiers in the platoon, often disappointed or confused by their mission in Paktika, some of his peers also said that Sergeant Bergdahl seemed enthusiastic about fighting, particularly after the platoon was ambushed several weeks before his disappearance.
“He’d complain about not being able to go on the offensive, and being attacked and not being able to return fire,” said Gerald Sutton, who knew Sergeant Bergdahl...
Mr. Sutton said he had struggled to square the popular portrayal of Sergeant Bergdahl as brooding and disenchanted with the soldier he knew. “He wanted to take the fight to the enemy and do the mission of the infantry,” he said, adding, “He was a good soldier, and whenever he was told to do something, he would do it.”
Mr. Cornelison made it his job to get to know the men he might someday have to save. He said Sergeant Bergdahl was cagey, never telling anyone his full personal story, sharing a snippet with one soldier, another snippet with someone else.
“He got excited during certain parts of fighting, but for the vast majority of the time, he was disillusioned when we had to be boots-on-the-ground infantrymen,” Mr. Cornelison said.
Sounds like the kind of guy who might volunteer for an exciting spy assignment. Perhaps that's precisely what he did.
And perhaps he was captured before that assignment truly began.
Remember: Hastings could give us only what he himself was given
Hastings himself was one weird cat. By all accounts, many in the military disliked him. Yet someone kept giving him access to important information -- a fact which indicates that he was considered useful. (Certain messages may gain wider credibility when sent via Rolling Stone
than when delivered by Lara Logan or Fox News.) Hastings' 2010 hit piece on General McChrystal certainly aided David Petraeus. Hastings' 2011 article on Petraeus
was in some ways quite critical, but in other ways was flattering.