Responding to questions and criticisms surrounding the recent prisoner exchange of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban soldiers, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday tried to quell concerns about those fighters "returning to the battlefield" by boasting of his government's ability to target and kill individuals overseas.
Though few in the U.S. have voiced concern that Bowe Bergdahl—still in Germany receiving treatment after five years of captivity—will ever rejoin the battlefields in Afghanistan or Pakistan, the U.S. mainstream and rightwing media have been frantic about the possibility that the freed Guantanamo prisoners will pick up arms in the future.
Kerry described some of the hand wringing over the deal as "a lot of baloney" and made a not so-veiled threat about how the U.S. would respond in the future if it decided to target the men just recently released.
“I am not telling you they don’t have the ability to go back and get involved [in the fight],” Kerry told CNN. “But they also have an ability to get killed doing that. I don’t think anybody should doubt the capacity of the United States of America to protect Americans.”
Asked if that meant killing the men, Kerry replied: “The president has always said he will do whatever is necessary in order to protect the United States of America … so these guys pick a fight with us in the future, now, or at any time, at enormous risk. We have proven what we are capable of doing with the core al-Qaida in west Pakistan, Afghanistan.”
Though he did not specifically mention drones, the area mentioned along the Pakistan border has been the scene of hundreds of U.S. drone strikes over the course of the war.
Under the surface of the controversy that has boiled since Bergdahl's release nearly ten days ago, reporting by the Los Angeles Times on Friday showed that the five Taliban released weren't necessarily the "worst of the worst" at Guantanamo as it described much of the concern a lot of "hype."
And as Cori Crider, from the human rights group Reprieve argued last week, people should put less emphasis on the trading of prisoners of war than on the continued U.S. detention of 78 other individuals at Guantanamo Bay who were neither tried nor charged with any crimes and have long been cleared for release. Crider wrote:
Lost in the kerfuffle over the Bergdahl-Taliban swap is one simple and very positive development: we now know that, when push comes to shove, the Defense Department and the White House can work together to close Guantánamo Bay. No, shutting down the prison isn't a matter of flipping a switch. But break the matter down into individual cases and achievable diplomatic solutions tend to present themselves.
Never mind the so-called "Taliban Five" – Obama's real chance on Gitmo today is for the Cleared 78. With another stroke of Obama's pen, many of those prisoners could be on a plane back to their families tomorrow. The president is plainly concerned with how this prison will affect his legacy; in releasing the cleared, he has a genuine opportunity to solve much of the remaining problem before the end of his term. [...]
Once you treat these men as individuals, and not the orange-jumpsuited scarecrows whom Republicans tend to deploy for political gain, solutions to the Gitmo conundrum quickly appear.