MSNBC's Alter Dismisses 'Phony Debate' Over Bergdahl Prisoner Swap

Ever a good soldier for President Obama, MSNBC political analyst Jonathan Alter defended the president’s actions in securing the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl by exchanging him for five high-level detainees at Guantanamo.

Appearing on the June 2 edition of Jansing and Co., Alter said the move was rather, well, routine because, “at the end of the war, prisoner exchanges are common.” Directing harsh criticism towards skeptics of this exchange, Alter intimated that the administration’s policy was a success because there were essentially only two legitimate options open for the Obama administration: either make an exchange for Bergdahl now, or leave him to die [MP3 audio here; video below the jump]:

So the critics have, they cannot square the circle. They are all saying, oh, well we are glad that his life has been saved and that we are getting him home, and we welcome him home, wonderful, but they shouldn't have done this. Well, it’s either one or the other. Either you think that he should have been left to die in Taliban captivity or there should be a prisoner exchange, you have to choose.

That is completely and utterly false, there were plenty of other options available, according to Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, a former Army intelligence officer who discussed his views later on in the day on MSNBC’s The Cycle.

Shaffer argued–according to his intelligence– that “there were at least two other options” that could have freed Bergdahl. When questioned about the nature of these other choices by Toure, Shaffer added that there were “alternate negotiation options,” rejecting Toure’s assumption that these alternatives would even be military options.

What’s more, at present, there are more than 32,000 American troops presently in Afghanistan. Despite Alter’s claims that prisoner exchanges are common at the end of wars–this may very well be true–this war does not end until 2016, and that is on this administration’s ever-changing timeline.

It is entirely possible that the release of these Taliban operatives could endanger and even lead to the death of American troops. Was waiting another two years not a realistic choice for Mr. Alter, particularly given Bergdahl was reportedly declared by the Pentagon to have deserted his post, as opposed to being, for example, captured while on patrol?

In all fairness, it is too early to tell how this situation will play out. But to shut down debate or opposition to the president’s policy when there is so much we don’t yet know – particularly because the Obama administration refused to notify Congress prior to the prisoner swap – is not productive behavior from the media.
 

A relevant transcript from the Jansing and Co. segment is below.

MSNBC
Jansing & Co.
June 2, 2014
10:08 a.m. Eastern


CHRIS JANSING, host: Jonathan, some Democrats are suggesting that this is purely political on the Republicans’ part, but is there a legitimate discussion to be had here, about whether or not this was a negotiation and our stated policy that we don't negotiate with terrorists?

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC political analyst: Look, any discussion is legitimate, but this is kind of a phony debate. Look at the Israelis, they have on more than 25 occasions in recent decades engaged in these prisoner exchanges that have led to release of terrorists. They in many cases, they will for five or six Israeli prisoners trade dozens of Arab prisoners, especially when hostilities are coming to an end as they are in Afghanistan. At the end of the war, prisoner exchanges are common. So the critics have, they cannot square the circle. They are all saying, oh, well we are glad that his life has been saved and that we are getting him home, and we welcome him home, wonderful, but they shouldn't have done this. Well, it’s either one or the other. Either you think that he should have been left to die in the Taliban captivity or there should be a prisoner exchange, you have to choose.

JANSING: And there is another question that they follow up with, which is who are these guys who got released, and Evan, you sent me some expansive stuff from Wikileaks over the weekend, you’ve followed these guys over the years, you know who they are, they’ve tried to be dismissed as gray beards, but who are they really, and how concerning are they?

EVAN KOHLMANN, NBC News terrorism analyst: Look, when you negotiate peace with someone, I think Jonathan is right, you have to negotiate with the enemies, you don’t negotiate with your friends and sometimes you have to negotiate with high level enemies and there are certainly a lot of people being held in Gitmo that we would like to try to ferry out of there, because we don't know what to do with them. The problem is that these individuals in particular are very worrisome, and in some cases, they have been described as gray beards or described as no longer a threat. That is not the case, if you look at the D.O.D. profiles, it’s very clear, these guys do present an ongoing threat, and there is a possibility they will rejoin the Taliban, one of them, his brother right now is a very senior Taliban commander, active right now. Another one also his brother-in-law, again a very active Taliban commander, he is known as the butcher of hosts, these are the people that–there is a significant risk that they will go back to doing what they were doing before, because it is all they have ever done. Now, does that mean that we shouldn’t have done the trade? I don't know, but we should recognize that the trade comes with risks, and those risks are not things that are going to be easily mitigated by the government of Qatar. We saw what happened with Saudi Arabia, and we sent back a number of Saudi detainees to Saudi Arabia, and the Saudis promised us these guys will not harm you again, we will not let them travel and we will make sure they are rehabilitated and guess what,  almost all of them went over the border to join Al Qaeda in Yemen.

Connor Williams
Connor Williams
Connor Williams is a contributing writer for NewsBusters.