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Roby: Obama wrong to call outrage over Taliban prisoner exchange a ‘whipped up’ controversy

Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL02)
Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL02)

This week details have emerged about the plan to release five former Taliban commanders from U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in exchange for Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.

President Obama expressed surprise when the exchange was met with widespread, bi-partisan criticism, rather than the universal celebration the White House first tried to project. He called it a “whipped up” controversy based in politics.

Actually, there are good reasons why the way the White House went about this exchange has upset many Americans, including lawmakers from both parties, national security experts – some who have served in his Administration, and military families.

First, the decision to negotiate and cut a deal with the Taliban has endangered Americans. Military personnel serving in Afghanistan, diplomatic service members, and even American tourists travelling overseas are at greater risk today because of this exchange. Why? Because the prisoners we released are dangerous warfighters committed to jihad against America. Because our enemies now have every incentive to capture Americans and try to broker a deal to get their jihadist friends released.

Our people carry with them an important protection abroad: the well-known principle that the United States does not negotiate with terrorists. That protection has been compromised, no matter how much some might want to quibble over the semantic differences between a terrorist and a Taliban enemy combatant.

You don’t have to take my word for it. NBC News reported that at least one of the enemy combatants we released from Guantanamo Bay said he will return to fight American forces in Afghanistan. And Time Magazine reported that Taliban leaders are already planning to capture Americans in order to negotiate for more prisoner exchanges.

Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL2) visits troops at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan (Photo: U.S. Military)
Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL2) visits troops at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan (Photo: U.S. Military)

Second, many take serious issue with the way President Obama and his team have characterized this exchange. Over and over again we’ve heard the explanation that such a prisoner exchange is “what happens at the end of wars.” In fact, when talking about Afghanistan, President Obama has a bad habit of using the past tense as if the conflict is over.

Just a few weeks ago I was in Afghanistan visiting many of our fellow Alabamians stationed there. I can tell you Afghanistan isn’t in the past for them. Nor is it for their families back home.

Yes, prisoner exchanges happen at the end of wars. But, this war isn’t over, and our fighting men and women are still in harm’s way. Pretending otherwise to score rhetorical points is reckless and offensive.

Much is being made about Sgt. Bergdahl himself and the circumstances surrounding his imprisonment. The mounting allegations are indeed troubling. However, I will reserve judgment until the Army has fully investigated and adjudicated the matter.

The United States must always try to free Americans held prisoner in enemy territory, but negotiating with jihadist enemy combatants should never be an option. We don’t negotiate with terrorists because it invites more terrorism. I fear we have invited more danger upon our nation, and not less. And, like many Americans I find that deeply disturbing.

In the coming weeks, the House Armed Services Committee and other officials on Capitol Hill are going to be closely examining this exchange and the long-term ramifications it may have on our country and the war against terror. I will be following those inquiries closely.

Reaction to the Taliban prisoner negotiation isn’t a “whipped up” controversy. It is a genuine response from concerned Americans who don’t understand why the President would make such an ill-advised decision, much less attempt to celebrate it.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.

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