DiscoverSerialS02 Episode 09: Trade Secrets
S02 Episode 09: Trade Secrets

S02 Episode 09: Trade Secrets

Update: 2016-03-0325
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You don’t make peace with your friends. 

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how do you how to manipulate an entire country to get a uh an enlisted soldier previously on cereal like how kind and Afghanistan I unpacked my bag for our greater bureaucracy is telling the family suggests shut Up and waitress the Pakistani armed forces and can run free and he really likes Johnny Walker Black label the the exchange to the media for all the prisoners The The The The The The The The from This American Life and the BBC Chicago it's cereal one story told week by week and Sarah came in the May thirty first twenty fourteen day Bo gets picked up by special operations team in Afghanistan he's quickly pulled onto a helicopter leaving the ground like that with space suddenly all around him after five years of being locked in rooms he said it was like crossing an abyss when they landed at a nearby base Bo wanted to communicate with these guys who rescued him he couldn't talk yet he hadn't spoken sentences much less had a conversation in so long is a good thing of the words but he couldn't make them come out of his head the area that for some the right the first they asked was if there are special forces unit only Special Forces I'm to get the Intel in the day they got to play after a few minutes I threw some clothes I mean it's true that the shirt in a dreamy on the plane with the rest of the team at Bagram and that was the last of the bed is mentioned in my bonnet that they united the people that I'm going to the edge on the plane began to give you some food in I bother the exact understanding is that on the to do the at that moment a military transport plane was standing by at Guantanamo Bay waiting to take five Taliban guys to cut or five years worth of machinations high hopes and false starts and politicking in secret meetings had gone into getting go on to that helicopter and the five Taliban prisoners onto a C seventeen response to this trade back home in the US carried but probably the loudest response was I can't believe we just did that we negotiated with terrorists to release some terrorists to get back a dessert or it seems people also had questions in Afghanistan way was Oh this about they really just give up five leaders of the tall blonde for one American soldier that spider Akbar he grew up in the US but his Afghan palace in Kabul his father was governor of Kunar province here's a friend of This American Life has done some stories for us Ryder was in Afghanistan when the trade happened and he remembers the talk of disbelief this guy was deftly not easy a general damages conversation is this guy a general note he's just a soldier really they couldn't let go of five years there must be something greater at play here and there was supposed to be something much greater at play here something as big and grand plan to so what happened how did this become the solution to getting Bohol the the the in two thousand I hear Bo's captured the war in Afghanistan was going very badly for U S troops and struggle was going on inside the Obama administration about what to do about it the idea the president settled on was fully resource counterinsurgency key stocks meaning talking directly to the Taliban about ending the war that was not part of the plan not yet the person who argued the most forcefully for that to change said we should start talking to the Taliban now with a diplomat Richard Holbrooke Holbrooke had just been appointed ass rap Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan basically Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had hired him to help and the war Holbrooke was as legendary negotiator a huge tenacious talent and also a huge personality in her memoir about being Secretary of State Clinton tells a story about how relentless he was once followed her into a ladies room in Pakistan could finish making his point over grabbed some people in the administration the wrong way including Obama himself but work didn't stop lobbying for a political solution to the war well Richard did not think that there was a military solution to the war in Afghanistan that Scott E Mart on a journalist and writer she's also married to Richard Holbrooke who died in twenty ten the not think that you put in the fall your way to solution to the General betray us felt that doubling down on the Taliban was the way to go Richard would have ten second conversations with betrayal and and the shift of that was you know this is not the time for diplomacy and we deeply resent it that Reyes who was his friend referring to them repeatedly as his wing man Richard would grumble to me and when did the diplomat become the military's wing Matt the party says it wasn't a person if I tell him I think about that was the principle that the military had too much sway it was dominating political strategy in these wars Ali Nasser also worked for Holbrook in the ass rap office as a special advisor to the Middle East scholar Nasr says in Holbrook view the whole military pursues diplomacy debate was out of whack in other words it was General betray Us should be Holbrook swingman for handmade and the military's a hand maiden to diplomacy and that balance has been lost during the Bush airs and and and that's I think he believed that that was fundamentally wrong and what fun that I would get America into greater trouble so hard Brooks Field as they use the military to get the Taliban to the table but the goal is to get them to sign a document an agreement may we all work is being sidelined this whole time people in the administration are trying to get him fired in fact Hillary Clinton protected them to make matters worse Holbrooke had a crummy relationship with Hamid Karzai Karzai thought Holbrook and undermined and the Afghan presidential elections the summer of two thousand and nine cars I wasn't entirely wrong about that so all around homework isn't so popular and neither is the notion of us sitting down with the enemy the Taliban but it seems the enemy was interested in talking to US diplomats in Germany have been meeting with a thirty something Afghan guy who was close to Mullah Omar the Taliban leader his name was tired I go back in Washington they didn't say his name out loud though he's a code name a rod holder with a baseball fan yes a ride was of a familiar name as a meeting with Iran would be risky if the guy's for real whether you're being played neither side has in fact but Holbrooke wanted to try it he took it to Hillary Clinton who was skeptical but gave the go ahead for a first face to face meeting between the Taliban and the United States government was to be just outside Munich right after Thanksgiving twenty ten and it was to be secret pal Dan insisted it be secret or else they walk Pakistan didn't know the British to know few people in the U S government know the people the Taliban do the hw they met in a small village in a safe house run by the other Thai about God when Western suits in his earlier meetings with the Germans at this meeting he wore traditional Afghan clothes white tunic type bag open by reading a formal propaganda stick statement he knew the Americans win like the Americans don't have a set agenda there must be there to listen but while they weren't talking terms the US did have some non negotiable zz be one of the Taliban to stop fighting break with al Qaeda and support the Afghan constitution including rice in there for women and girls is especially important to Hillary Clinton the big goal was to get the Taliban to start talking to the Karzai government the idea as the State Department put it to get Afghans talking other Afghans about the future of Afghanistan so we could get out of the room the Taliban wanted a few things too they wanted the US to distinguish between them and al Qaeda take their names off a U N sanctions list of terrorists they wanted a political office outside of Pakistan they wanted it in Doha Qatar and they wanted their prisoners and that's where Bo comes and by that time the kinds have been holding him for almost a year and now at this meeting his fate becomes tied to the fate of the peace process in Afghanistan U S hands over some Taliban prisoners they'll hand over the American soldier Bowe would be part of what are called confidence building measures that would pave the way for substantive peace talks the Americans weren't allowed to call it a prisoner exchange by the way had to call it a mutual release so Bo is part of the discussion is not the point of these talks the crux of anything that's pretty clear when a vast diplomats and State Department officials about it Bo was like a line item an important line item in a line item nonetheless the the the the herd in red and number of different accounts now about what the Taliban initially asked for in exchange for Bowe one source told me it was always five particular guys at Gitmo the Taliban wanted the another source who was at the meeting told me that at first it was a simpler demand for Taliban prisoners held at Auburn and Afghanistan have I got turned us down for an interview so I haven't been able to definitively in this town the case when the Munich meeting was over the Americans a contingent from the White House State Department to fly home report back to their bosses thumbs up is on overdrive out to the airport to meet his god he's so eager to hear how when and then just a couple of weeks later Holbrooke dies he was at work when his aorta ruptured his rush to hospital for surgery on December thirteen twenty ten he died just a pas here from it a bunch of people I talk to for the story or sad about Holbrooke staff not just for him but for Afghanistan they had this feeling that maybe if Holbrooke hadn't died when he did the talks with the Taliban could of worked out differently that we wouldn't still be in this mess of war here's Ali Nasser Holbrooke was the only I thing statesman at that time in the United States was willing to take the risk of owning reconciliation yes that wasn't afraid of that wasn't afraid of it he advocated was a very very unpopular and risky position I don't think anybody else was willing to do it after that nobody stood up and said I'm now Mr. reconciliation now the champion of this thing and the irony of Ed was that he was beans so much effort was being put on marginalize in him and that that you know any actually died we realize you know how much was the actually carrying and how important he was right after Holbrooke dies that's when political reconciliation with the Taliban officially becomes US strategy in February of two thousand eleven Hillary Clinton gives a speech in honor of Holbrook actually in which for the first time an American official speaks out loud in public about talking peace with the Taliban still many people in the government aren't happy about it now I know that reconciling with an adversary that can be as brutal as the Taliban sounds distasteful even unimaginable and diplomacy would be alot easier if we only had to talk to our friends but that is not how one makes peace and here was the original vision after Munich over the next six months everyone would agree to terms on the confidence building measures office would happen the trade including them would happen and then the goal was by December two thousand eleven an international conference in Bonn Germany Karzai would be there in the talks Afghan to Afghan would be under way such an orderly vision instead what happens is fitful is the best word I can think of years of fits and starts for people in the diplomacy business in the pink hanging trajectory of these talks is probably familiar to me as I was trying to figure out what happened with Bo and his connection to these meetings with Taliban I just had no idea it would look like this and I'm not gonna take you through every step because all week but I just wanna point out some of the moments of ah if only because they really bring home how fraught and fragile diplomacy can be so after Munich there's this brief moment of hopefulness say that Karzai had created a high peace council in anticipation of impending peace talks the US had a couple more meetings with Ty about and then stagnation nothing is signed nothing is moving Washington is wary its dithering Michael Steiner was the ass rap for Germany at the time he helped set up the U S Taliban talks in the first place he says after Munich it was like the motor of the whole process sputtered last time enormous precious time off to work with every last month that the perspective to get this situation he becomes more difficult no sold and blown about and needed to show progress to his boss as the Taliban are getting antsy in addition fertile okay it's no easy thing for him to get to these meetings in secret he worried understandably that is life might be in danger if became public he was talking to the U S factions inside the Taliban didn't want peace talks and no one had consulted Pakistan about any of this Pakistan had long wanted to be a player in any peace talks Karzai was perpetually worried that the US and Pakistan were up to something behind his back it all had to stay quiet and two dozen eleven Ambassador Marc Grossman replace Holbrooke as a threat was supposed to be secret it would have been better if it had been quiet as as I know you know from doing your research people just kind of talked and talked and talked they did we suffer a lot of leaks from Washington and also from Kabul and why well because you know it wasn't the most popular thing in the world to be doing the the result of the nave two thousand eleven The Washington Post and actually go in Germany both reported that the talks are happening for the first time they named it I am about the Taliban walked away from the Times Clinton rushed to Islamabad to smooth things over with Pakistan another State Department official flew to Doha as the Curry's to please please ask the Taliban to come back which a few months later they did but according to Michael Steiner the leaks meant the Taliban now had to dig in on their demands to reassure their own people they weren't selling out to the Americans the price for the continuation of the process this all got high because the demand become higher and if he would have acted earlier much less would have been heard to be paid an unspecified but I believe he's talking about the Gitmo detainees that the Taliban now fixed on that demand that made things harder because getting prisoners out of Gitmo any prisoners just ask President Obama that's not easy there laws about it to tell Congress to get the Secretary of Defense to sign off on it someone in the ass rap office at the time told me when they discuss at meetings the Defense Department just really really really oppose transferring anybody out of Guantanamo big picture Marc Grossman schools with the same as whole rocks to create a stable Afghanistan inside a stable region and had a plan a series of international conferences and meetings to get other countries to commit money and support to help not only end the war in Afghanistan but sustain a piece he explained all of this to tie a bow ago when they finally met in what we're what he want but what became clear to you was like why he was there they wanted their prisoners out of court time the president has a one point they did try to offer Thai about the prisoners from Bagram that was a no go home and he told a reporter David Rowe that they tried to offer four different how many guys can get no lesser figures had already been cleared for transfer but that was also rejected the Taliban wanted these five guys who are the the this point in the middle of two thousand and eleven there were seventeen Afghans in Guantanamo all of them accused of being tied to the Taliban or terrorist groups so why was tired of asking fifties five back in exchange for about the If you look at especially two of the biggies on the list as they mull a fossil and nori E happen with them is actually really interesting window into what was going on with the war right in the beginning in two thousand one because and this is a surprise to me that time late two thousand one somehow then commanders surrendered so there's this opportunity some people argue that we blew it has a big missed opportunity to get the Taliban to stop fighting because swooped and when they were weakest contain them a piece in other words all the things we'd still be struggling to do a decade and a half later attacked a car lot a call about these guys fossil and nori a lot as a reporter for The New York Times and she arrived in Afghanistan just a couple of weeks after the US started bombing the Taliban regime was unraveling and in the north work a lot it was hundreds of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters had just been trapped in the city of can do's should a newspaper story about what happened next I never got published so much else was going on that in Afghanistan in retrospect though she saw it was a singular moment in the war I tucked a car lot over skate shoes in her office in Tennessee to North Africa correspondent now the sound isn't great but she home in a story of what she saw she says she was up north at this big mud Ford or General Dustin also was Dustin was this infamous commander who was fighting the Taliban and the US was supporting him so does times there at this fort and he he received a donation of pollen on to what is surrender it was an eighteen wheel when reporters were waiting there all day and suddenly he's in this coma live pick up some dry and sweet and to the U N says My Will forte at lace and nine in the dark and there is one of the tunnel and they were Manning the guns and they slept in a pretty scary but actually in coming to talk to to to talk has surrounded in Allston MA fossil was only that some of fossils there and nori Lenore E was with him and these were to the guys that good decade later the Taliban would ask us to release in exchange for Bowe caught as nori Lenore E had a reputation as someone you could reason with his acquire guy than fossil a provincial governor but Faisal Khan has said he was one of the most feared men in the Land Use this is a hideous an overage of Monett has string of massacres to day in and he will terrify these guys and he knew all week so the wheels on people's sayings is I knew who shot his thing in people's nostrils and Bush throws I was being mean I would say is that you many more crimes and he was known to cause because although the northern tribes is the tone and its salts is suppressed and will hear Ian's mom the fossil and nori and others are surrendering they head into this meeting with custom pair Americans in the room to see a problem leaving the lot is waiting outside the hours initiate calls to midnight on the practice and muscle came to us and made the bite of it on his shoes they say it was that he will give up all of them are and the fights in the incredible moment to see not many of us were up there and not much pain this time that it was the only public surrender olds that are then forced the Ross as in the days that followed Basel delivered hundreds of his fighters Taliban and also foreign fighters Pakistanis came streaming in and handed over their weapons apparently the understanding was that fossils fighters would be allowed safe passage back to where they came from but it didn't happen instead many of them got killed at a now infamous prison uprising which lasted for days hundreds more got packed up in container trucks and sixty a whole other grisly chain of events as for fossil and nori Dustin kept him under house arrest for while his own rather fancy guest house but eventually he gave them up to the Americans was late it was they were taken to one warships in the Gulf I think it's quite a few trees that I and then they went on them they were in fact in that group the first arrivals at Guantanamo on January eleventh two thousand to have seen the pictures from that day men on their knees our jumpsuits barbed wire as for the other guys on time because lest they all seem to have been in contact with if not cooperating with either the US or the Karzai government when they're arrested and sent to Guantanamo one was the Taliban's deputy intelligence chief who was at a meeting with C I A agents when he was grabbed and rolled up in a car bed carried away like that in broad daylight another was the former Taliban interior minister had been in contact with Karzai about a job and one was meeting an American at the airport when he got arrested so those are the five actually there was one other guy that El din wanna back but he died at Guantanamo in a heart attack after exercising on an elliptical in early two thousand eleven if the Taliban could get these guys out of get home it would be symbolic in a bunch of ways first off it's a hugely morale boosting message to their own fighters look at the lengths we'll go to get our prisoners out more than that it's a huge public relations victory the United States the highest levels would be recognizing them the Taliban as a legitimate organization not treating them as a ragtag band of terrorists and finally to them it's a victory for their understanding of justice in this war since most of these guys say they weren't exactly fighting with Americans when they were captured in the first place well a father himself explains this line of thinking and his military tribunal at Guantanamo he tells the tribunal about the meeting with custom reporters quote there were cameramen and journalists their key meaning ghost and he says there's twenty five year war between person to person village by village city by city province by province and tribe against tribe if you think this is crime than every single person in Afghanistan should be in prison or bring them here I never ever fight against the new government I never fought against America and i din do anything wrong against them and why am I an enemy combatant it does seem true that Basel was a brutal fighter powerful commander and possibly were criminal but you can argue the same is true of general custom custom has also been accused of war crimes is now first vice president of Afghanistan our ally and one last thing on this in two thousand one hundred cars I had come to an agreement with Taliban commanders in the south the Taliban would hand over control of four provinces peacefully and in return they get amnesty but the U S said nope can't do that would let it happen instead we proclaimed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld because the Taliban harbored Osama bin Laden we would be treating them the same way we treated international terrorists we do not give amnesty to terrorists do not negotiate with terrorists we hunt them down the the the talks with the Taliban suffered so many setbacks over the years it's hard to even contain them on I had so many factors were in play in so many different countries some of the sad facts are pointed and intentional leaks for instance some setbacks were immutable a simple case of bad timing and some setbacks were so human just old fashioned screw ups the most obvious assault on the talks came in September of two thousand eleven a guy came to the door a former Afghan president and handed a bunny or Barney was heading Afghanistan's High Peace Council this guy said he had a message from the Taliban and blew up for Bonnie's house nobody was killed as were four others from the council about his assistant assume stacks I was badly injured no one took responsibility for the attack but many people suspected Pakistan was behind it Marc Grossman says losing the health of those guys especially having sex I out of commission for so many months was terrible that Afghans talking about future Afghanistan they were asking yeah they they would have been doing this work and whoever did this it was a very very strategic move for Bonnie assassination happened a couple months before the big international meeting in Bonn set for December two thousand eleven the one that a year earlier had been something of a finish line now it felt like they were back to square one and then a year and half later a screw up with some very bad results mid twenty thirteen o hundred in captivity for four years by then after various arm twisting in Washington and Kabul and Doha it looks as if they really might be able to crank up the talks again things have shifted some instead of the prisoner exchange first they're going to do in office the Taliban wanted an office in Doha as home base for political talks would show they were legitimate political actors the office had become issue number one for them and Karzai was naturally cautious about this there's a new ass Rabbi now Ambassador James Dobbins he's working with Karzai and with Cotter is the intermediary cautious is probably an understatement for cars and this thing he doesn't trust us he doesn't trust our stated objectives in Afghanistan are for real his word were trying to cut him out of the talks because I deal with Pakistan maybe he obviously doesn't trust Pakistan things maybe this whole office deal is a Pakistani orchestrated plot to get recognition for the Taliban he's worried Cotter is essentially letting the Taliban set up a shadow government with this Doha office so it's shaky to say the least Karzai's cooperation here the United States is trying to make sure everyone abides by the ground rules including the detail that the Taliban cannot throw around the words Islamic emirate in connection with the softness very important to have to call it something like the Political Office of the Taliban movement not as a representation of the Islamic emirate which was what they called their government so they shouldn't in effect as government of Afghanistan so everyone agreeing to the City Ground Zero is the assumption that in June Tom the office would open and we would begin discussions and the the change would be most likely the first order of business meaning exchange for Bowe would be the first order of business
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S02 Episode 09: Trade Secrets

S02 Episode 09: Trade Secrets

This American Life