Summarizing a report from the Office of National Intelligence within the Department of Defense, CNN Washington correspondent Jake Tapper noted that before leaving office, the Bush-Cheney administration had released 171 detainees from Guantanamo Bay prison that have either been “confirmed or suspected of having returned to the battlefield.” According to the report, seven detainees released by President Barack Obama since he took office six years ago have been “confirmed or suspected of having returned to the battlefield.”
That’s 171 to seven. Where was the Republican outrage?
On paper, negotiating with hostage takers is not a good idea because it simply encourages the bad guys to take more hostages. A case in point is when President Ronald Reagan secretly sent weapons (Hawk and TOW missiles) to Iran in an effort to free American hostages held by an Iranian group in Lebanon. Reagan was able to secure the release of three hostages, only to have three more hostages taken.
Paul Rosenberg, a columnist for Al Jazeera English, reports that “the U.S. got zero net hostages released” in return “for 2,512 TOW anti-tank missiles, 18 Hawk anti-aircraft missiles and more than 240 Hawk spare parts.” As stated by Rosenberg, not only did Reagan negotiate with hostage takers, but “he was really bad at it.”
Sending arms to Iran was illegal because the U.S. had an arms embargo against Iran. The Reagan administration broke the law again by sending money from the sale of the weapons to the Nicaraguan Contras. Sending aid to the Contras was specifically prohibited by Congress.
On March 4, 1987, Reagan admitted that “what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages.” His Secretary of Defense, Casper Weinberger, wrote that while Reagan knew of the “illegality” of the arms for hostages exchange with Iran, he believed that as president he could not pass up an opportunity to free American hostages.
Sometimes, reality trumps what sounds good on paper.
Fourteen people in the Reagan administration were convicted in charges related to the illegal arms-for-hostages exchange and the funding of the Nicaraguan Contras. No one went to jail, however, and most were pardoned when Reagan’s vice president, George H.W. Bush, became president.
Rosenberg states that Republicans are upset that “Obama broke the law by failing to consult with Congress 30 days in advance of releasing the Taliban detainees. But the consultation requirement in a bill passed by Congress was countered by a presidential signing statement — and acting on such signing statements was never a problem for the GOP when Bush was president.”
I don’t agree with the concept of presidential signing statements, which appears to allow U.S. presidents to ignore laws or parts of laws passed by Congress. But if Republicans agree that we should do away with this presidential privilege, we need to be consistent regardless of who is sitting in the White House.
Sometimes when we get involved in other people’s conflicts we end up getting burnt or making the situation worse. Unfortunately, many members of Congress have very short memories about these things. For example, Reagan sent his defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to Iraq to make deals with Saddam Hussein. Then Hussein invaded Kuwait, he became our enemy and we went to war with Iraq (the first time). We helped Afghanistan drive out the Russians by building a fighting force that ultimately became the Taliban. Reagan famously called them “freedom fighters” because they were, at the time, fighting against the Russians. Then the Taliban attacked us on 9/11, they became our enemy, we went to war in Afghanistan and then, for the second time, in Iraq.
The war hawks in Congress think that we need to return to Iraq, again, to stop the Sunnis and Shiites from fighting. They seem to forget that we broke Iraq when we toppled Hussein without any idea of how to govern its people or how to solve the centuries-old conflict between the Sunnis and the Shiites.