DiscoverSerialS02 Episode 10: Thorny Politics
S02 Episode 10: Thorny Politics

S02 Episode 10: Thorny Politics

Update: 2016-03-1721
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Are you hearing what I’m hearing?

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one of those lawyers sent a letter to Donald Trump about a week and half ago regarding a possible deposition of Trump or possible appearance as a witness during Bo's court martial here Mr. Trump requests to interview you as soon as possible setter trumps been doing this bit about bow on the campaign trail watch video of it it's about how crappy the trade was held as a traitor these Taliban terrorists are back in the fight about how in the old days we shot people like go on the battlefield and sometimes there's this stupid rata tat thing with his fingers know what Trump says about though is true not in the wake of compliance with the audience always gives a big meaty roar when he does it in the days designers ever since I've been reporting this story when I ask people on all sides of this thing what bothers them the most about Bo's case will say and wish it hadn't gotten so political sucks that it's a political and usually I just nod like in politics history for both just one more thing for Democrats or Republicans to yell at each other about the and the one I really look that it is like Jimenez was it inevitable that I got this combative because maybe it could've gone another way the the the This American Life and WBC Chicago it's cereal one story told week by week and Sarah Cain add Dave ha President Obama makes this big announcement flanked by Bob and Jenny heard all the hugs and kisses them and even though the president never called the hero the heft of announcing it at the White House in the Rose Garden the pomp of it from all those cameras it felt like the president was communicating triumph which if you're someone who served in the military maybe someone who went looking for bows say that message was bad enough but then the very next day National Security advisor Susan Rice went on TV she was on one of the Sunday news shows the host George Stephanopoulos asked her about Bo finally on this point sorry sir you were a lot of questions about how he originally was captured whether or not he deserted had left his post is that going to be investigated and found that he did indeed leave his post will he be disciplined or is already paid the price certainly anybody who's been held in those conditions in captivity for five years has paid an extraordinary price but that that is really not the point the point is that he's back he's going to be safely reunited with his family he served the United States with honor and distinction and that Yao honor and distinction to a lot of military people it was like the administration had reached out of their televisions and given them the finger right in their living rooms and then it became this like Oh he's a hero who served with honor distinction and flow of blood really to talk about the Donner station that I hit pretty hard I was irate is just like oh wait a minute the the some government officials are saying that the circumstances of Sergeant Bergdahl capture weren't clear and the soldiers alike know the circumstances are clear he walked away how I feel so shinny to be told Oh we don't really know the truth that's Mark McCrory has imposed Battalion it took us you know the screaming into the internet to be heard some of the guys from Bo's former in touch with each other immediately someone started and he's not a hero Facebook group people start the other was Cody fall had been in both speech and could actually roomed with back in training in Alaska he wanna talk to me on the story the streets got the attention the media guy named Brad Chase other than Rick are now public relations strategist his work for some big name Republicans chastened are now work together and they said to Cody won t be a wider audience for what you want to say Jenny first and a former Army Specialist Cody fallen Gerald Sutton first stop was Fox News Cody let me start with you Do you believe that Bowe Bergdahl deserted yes I do believe he deserted without a doubt my mind the other guy on TV with Cody that day Gerald Sutton he was also knows that and his friends with Bo he told me Cody had contacted him and said to do something to help me years before Judd said he had tried to tell people what had gone down the road walk away he wrote something on the internet a few others had to be said nobody seemed to pay much attention back then he worried the same thing would happen now I didn't actually take seriously the list I guess the reason why we had some people behind us as that one of us came around certain people just like oh yes a disgruntled person so maybe the entire platoon came out and said Say aren't that maybe you'll be taken seriously for once we're joined now by six members of Bo Bergdahl as a platoon guys thank you all so much for being here so it's a group got bigger few days later Fox again this time a panel of platoon mates sodas and other TV appearances CNN ABC MSNBC we're hearing a lot about him from his fellow platoon members who served with red and from those who like to see a dishonorable discharge for him yes yes he needs to be held one hundred percent accountable it is served with him in Afghanistan have challenges account the fact the matter is is he deserted us in the middle of Afghanistan to go and find the Taliban among the They were a lot more like say Gerald Sutton again and more precise and see more entertaining view of the very bland Geraldine want to go on anymore shows he knew his limits he wanted to stick to the facts no opinion the speculation and even those like thirty seconds or whatever in there God wants us to be like Oh put the issue of the CIA and that was the problem was that maybe Gerald was like Bo fact peace dude he was just no match for the juggernaut that was now up and rolling Fox News especially was all over it in fact just before they had that panel of six guys from Second platoon on that aired an exclusive report breaking tonight exclusive and dramatic new details about Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl time in captivity including reports that he became a Muslim and at one point declared himself a warrior for Islam the story was based on frankly bullshit Intel from a discredited source but now it was out there has repeated and repeated next the politics of it all that became the story the Obama administration was using bows trade for political purposes note the right was using this for political purposes using these former platoon mates for political purposes after all Rick are now the media guy helping them he was a big Republican strategists again for guys like Gerald none of that was the point they were trying to attack the president they weren't even trying to eat as well even Cody Full who spoke an early and often on the topic above he testified at a congressional hearing saying you wanna make sure Bo was held accountable for what he did but even he resisted Obama baiting by Republican Congressman if you could say anything to President Obama regarding this trade what would you say it's a fair enough Mr. Walz you're forewarned same questions at that same hearing Mike Wiles also testified he told the committee was there before them in part because of the Rose Garden Mike's a lieutenant Colonel in the Army reserves former Green Grey he been commander of Army Special Forces he said on lots of missions looking for bows for that he worked in the Bush White House special adviser to Dick Cheney on South Asian counterterrorism when I read Mike's testimony and cozies was like on this is because of a five minute ceremony in the Rose Garden because of how it looked asked Mike about that he kena scold me are you saying like like none of us would even be talking about this if basically you know the president hadn't done that Rose Garden saying in and tried to politicize the land shall be well yeah I mean he and his is all about the optics in other words or is this like I mean are you saying like going be I wouldn't gotten my leg feathers ruffled about thus if there had I been I don't think I can I don't want to speak for anyone and I don't believe that I would have been as vocal was I was just an incredibly tone deaf move on the part of the White House having it shows how disconnected they are from both the Pentagon and I think and is truly lacking understanding of military culture and when you have the National Security advisor in a civil military system more than who the military has to listen to essentially knife handing on national television sending the signal that this man was honorable I was afraid that it would all be forgotten and that this was going to be politically swept under the carpet to make into a lot of people watching and listening to the president today wasn't as what he said are glad those back are committed to ending this war we support reconciliation are committed to closing get no it's not just that he said all of that it's what the president didn't say that's what was glaring no recognition or even mention of We understand there were some irregularities or some question about his disappearance and I want all veterans all former P O W's and everyone involved with the search that we will objectively and fairly get to the bottom of what happened at a I felt that justice was not going to even be attempted to be served when the the the I guess many pple lo these many months in other parts of government was the White House thinking why they do it and everyone I've asked Mike how I don't know what happened over that day but surely regret now bump your head because this Rose Garden event that kicked up so much anger and resentment that Lee was put together kind of spur of the moment one of those things we like hell let's have a party be great except big fat mistake not of the president's speech the podium the Rose Garden none of it was the original plan for how to announce this trade the original plan was a much quieter affair Noah touch me on tape about this but off tape I talked to several people who worked in the White House at the time they all told very similar stories about what happened that day so this is their version here goes the those rescue operation was touch and go for several days of the C seventeen sitting and sitting at Guantanamo it was high wire the whole thing Nolan smoothly in the end but leading up to it you know if the special operations guys helicopters going to crash into a firefight one of those going to get hurt or killed during the rescue and had to be stone secret the whole time the guitars have made it clear that even a word of this gets out beforehand the deal is off the people the White House thought this might be the last real chance to get blowback was stressful for much of the week before the trade inside the White House and the National Security offices have been working around the clock if I see the scene in is it I think mostly I was sleeping under my desk for four days of recovery that's Jeff Eggers has a special assistant to the President for National Security Affairs he's also a retired Navy seal he deployed to Iraqi work in Afghanistan even helping coordinate those recovery with the D O D and State Department because it started to gain momentum that weekend it was your are you Are You Being You for Miss figure sitting on your desk or you are actually sitting on your desk Nye was actually sleeping under my desk lecture was next to my desk for four days I think that was also the week that the president made some significant announcements about troop decisions in Afghanistan so it was actually a big week was the timing of that just can sell those to the purely coincidental President Obama had already done a more solemn Rose Garden event that week made twenty seven twenty fourteen he announced a big drawdown of troops by the end of the year and a plan to get out of Afghanistan fully by the end of twenty sixteen quote Americans have learned it is harder to end wars and it is to begin them he said and now a few days later May thirty first they just gotten word the operation to rescue both had worked he was alive he was safe the national security folks and the White House press folks knew it was going to be lumpy business trading five Taliban it was going to be controversial but the circumstances of those capture we're going to be a topic they knew the people I talked to in the White House weren't strangers to military culture some people who worked on this exchange had been in the military such as Jeff Eggers or had worked closely with the military effort in war zones they thought it was important that the president on the decision to make this trade that he explain the policy behind it said the original plan for how to announce a release a written statement from the president the Pentagon would also release a written statement the same time that the the while Bob and Jenny Bergdahl happen to be in town they come to DC for some meetings that have been scheduled long before with the administration no one told them this is about to take place a visit to DC was not planned con side with those return there in a park playing with some friends of children when they got the call the end it seemed to make sense they're in town already instead of just a phone call the president will see them in person and now here's where I'd argue there was a blind spot about how all this with luck that no one in the White House and catch it some other people on staff had been working on this for years first the talks with the Taliban and the operation to get low net with Bo's parents before some of them and so when people told me is that for them it's not that they were oblivious it's just that that day that moment they felt so happy they've been on tender hooks for days weeks even and now this horrible saga had come to an unknown and God heard and you've got those parents right there you can see their faces crying affect the meanwhile there are some very good reporters in Washington and at Guantanamo as I've mentioned a few of them had known this was going to go down but had held off reporting it and so now the White House press people thought well we need to placate them to please them because if we have the fur girls here with the president and we'll let some photographers catch that scene given what's called Camera spray can be pressed to maybe let's arrange at least for that maybe a shot of the president walking and talking with the birdhouse for instance and then well it was such a sunny day such good news for once why not just do the whole thing in the Rose Garden so in the space of a few hours went from a simple statement to a Rose Garden ceremony in any of those parents talking at all from the podium much less Bob speaking some words in Pashtun Arabic as utterly impromptu as for the Susan Rice thing ambassador Rice politely declined to talk to me for this story but the White House people I talked to told me they cringe when she said it is a talking to the press is not her forte a goal defensive and this cliche tumble down honor and distinction few days later Rice explained herself saying she just meant that volunteering to serve his country in a time of war was an honorable thing to do by then honor and distinction was already caught in Amber was going to be any shaking it loose in the the the the who the pretty isolated when you work in the West Wing one person has to work there told me pretty cut off from the normal workday world it's easy to forget how iconic it all is the columns the podium with the presidential seal the dough me there wasn't a concerted effort to make over doll into a hero to whitewash what happened in Afghanistan say they know it looks that way but there really wasn't a grand political calculus BC there were just tired and a buzz with relief and they thought everyone will feel this joy I got carried away in hindsight when former staffer told me he should've thought about it more but there were other audiences who are watching people had suffered quote the Rose Garden at a target on our back the thing is and this is me talking I think it also put a target on those back the the the who just walk with me now along this path from the White House at the street a ways to Capital Health I swear we won't stay there too long but this is the next place where the politics of this trade hardened and intensified and I get it it's Congress they're in a constant state of readiness to hate anything President Obama comes up with but this time the first off no one from the White House or duty or the State Department no one told Congress this trade was about to go down so members heard about it on the news basically like everyone else by law the administration was supposed to notify Congress thirty days before any detainee was transferred out of Guantanamo this time they didn't and that was on purpose the White House didn't want members to get mad and try to stop the deal from taking place by leaking it to the press for instance why did they think Congress would get mad well because the administration already knew the Congress thought it stunk this deal back in twenty twelve when the trade was de linked to peace talks with the Taliban didn't really seem to get Michael forward has arranged some classified briefings in special rooms on Capitol Hill where stuff happens apparently members had made themselves bring clear the time their reactions to propose traded five Taliban guys ranged from skeptical to harbor side and Princeton's then Senator Saxby Chambliss Republican from Georgia a briefing of the Senate Intelligence Committee on January twenty two almost two and a half years before it actually took place talking about trading the stabbing as for Bo I want to state publicly as strongly as the cam that we should not transfer these detainees from Guantanamo so demonstration worried understandably that if they brought it up again to get crushed the might not be able to get back at all the decision was made don't say anything the soap by twenty fourteen a lot of people in Congress assumed the deal was dead which was a reasonable thing to think that's more or less what they've been told over the years you can see in State Department memos in January and February twenty fourteen even as administration was working to revive the deal officials called around to certain offices on Capitol Hill to update certain members of Congress about the Bergdahl situation the calls ended with quote We told them we would keep them updated and continue to consult before taking any action unquote but they didn't consult Congress because Congress was hearing it on the news all of that was a was a surprise just how blatant intentional misleading Congress was warned us that smacks or Mary Texas Republican the time of the trade he was a member of the House Armed Services Committee known as Haskell now he's the chairman asked oversees the Department of Defense and has staffers on the Republican side told me that that relationship with D O D has traditionally been pretty solid cooperative straightforward now they realized D O D had been the lead on hammering out this final Bergdahl Deal had told them nothing for instance just three and half months before the trade happened The Washington Post published a story quoting unnamed sources talked about the five Taliban going to do ha is pretty detailed and so somehow ask staff they say they asked the D O D about it haiz anything to this and they said they were told note the it's possible probable actually that the person they called wasnt lying is we're in the know meanwhile e mails are singing among all these other government officials who are in the now quote who's leaking this very accurate info these leagues are killing us we need to talk about getting control back Tony blink at the White House sent one around about his dismay and disgust over the league since it could derail the deal quote simply put whoever is responsible should look him or herself in the mirror By what right did I jeopardize the life of a fellow American historian Mary again we had specific questions you know are these press reports right they denied than I did in looking back now we know that in some instances they were two Q Has by saying in negotiations today when the guy was about to get on a plane and go to the Mideast to have negotiations tomorrow what he's talking about is a congressional hearing in late April just a month before the trade State Department official was asked about efforts to recover bow and he gives this kind of cryptic updates he says that agencies across the government were striving in the most quote energetic and creative ways we can devise unquote to secure his release unfortunately that Alvin broke off contact with us in January of two thousand and twelve we would very much like to return to direct contact with them and if we do at the top of our agenda will be Sergeant Bergdahl is certainly not the case as was reported that somehow the Taliban back on the network are seeking to release him and that interagency squabbles within the United States government are preventing or delaying long thanks very much I'd be impressed that same guy was in Doha by the next day for meeting about the Bergdahl trade yet the administration wasn't exactly forthcoming with Congress and the other hand it was an open hearing and he's talking about a deal so fragile still isn't over it's going to fall apart like the others before it regardless once harassed staffers on the Republican side went back interest exactly what they were and weren't told they investigated the whole trade issued a strongly worded report about it that report then enter the political fray Democrats called it an expression of shrill demagoguery accused Republicans of using the trade to push their national security agenda Republicans accuse Democrats of exactly the same thing I talked to some hast staffers again on the Republican side about this whole thing and they sounded to me surprisingly genuinely upset by what happened to their once collegial relationship with deity the relationship going forward and there is nothing but can we rely on they are telling us about any given issue like you just like you don't trust those guys anymore yes is a biggie I guess is the biggie that you've seen where you're just like I can not believe how this went down or is this just like Oh my God there's like this happens three times a year on different things we the president this staffer said we're not just foot stomping here that you guys didn't tell us is actually a profound concern about national security and the risk to our particular knife through the regular armed forces deployed overseas in Afghanistan and so is where worries she's talking about the Taliban Five like the president and the deity had done an end run around the approval process for Gitmo transfers and you know for these five Taliban guys anyway how can we trust you that they're safe to release but they won't rejoin the battle who signed off on this this part of the fight over Bo's trade wan talk about it for minute because it mirrors a deeper bare knuckle fight over Guantanamo the president wants to close Guantanamo most Republicans in Congress even though President Bush went closer to oppose the idea since Obama took office and one of the arguments they make is that some of the prisoners we've released from ghetto have rejoined the fight and that's true most haven't but somehow so it's a fair question right what about these five Taliban were they safe to release from Guantanamo there's probably including the military who knows the ins and outs of get no better than Carol Rosenberg from the Miami Herald actually asked military people questions about Guantanamo and they've referred me to Carol Rosenberg explained that these five guys what's known down there as forever prisoners they hadn't been cleared for release and hadn't been and wouldn't be charged with crimes but they also weren't going through the administration's new review process an inner agency board meant to assess each detainee who was still down there and figure out whether they could be cleared for transfer or should still be held by all accounts this review process is a much more rigorous and more rational look at the intelligence that has been done in the past again these five guys weren't on the list for review here's Carol three These guys got there in the first day you would have thought that they get the first reviews but they did and I'm watching through the years wire to reviewing these guys were reviewing the skies started asking questions really early wire has me because I my instinct was my thought was we know that they're trying to trade when you think they're trying to push him through the board to get in position on in the home or not they are not unlike and wonder if they think that the intelligence people will clear them right on it right if you have a non pay per then it would look even worse for the president right yes imagine if they've been rejected for release by the board and the USA traded them anyway the sister was in her review we don't have any public way at least a recent intelligence assessment on these five guys however I talked to someone who should know I need him not his real name you heard him back in episode five is the guy who is close to the recovery effort from home and worked with both parents Nathan is not a lefty he's former military and he was an Intel analyst get the specialty was Afghanistan Pakistan he did two stints on time for a total of three years ending in twenty thirteen the He knew all about these Taliban guys the office again I was a Stone's throw from where they were being held the eighth then readily admits that he's biased insofar as he wanted Bo to come home he was working toward that very goal but she was not happy about this trade doesn't hate it like a lot of his peers in the analyst world just wishes it hadn't come to that the only option left for the president was the skit no option that wasn't the political will to do anything else he also thinks these five guys they're OK to release their being watched closely in Cotter the high profile so they can hide everyone knows who they are and what they look like he then says there's just not much they be able to pull off even if they want it to their value to the Taliban in Afghanistan he said is pretty much limited to a rallying cry was very familiar with them and honestly I didn't feel that it was that big of a danger to really say no even that survey guys nori and and file who are the kind of biggest fashion seems like they had yeah I definitely have to be that trouble could they if they're ending up being trouble is because you know this we let them be troubled we dropped the ball on keeping eye on them or do you feel like you guys had cleared or not your job to clear some information that had recommended release or had seen people released who are on par with these guys sure sure yeah and you know we really we shouldn't we know they were yeah I definitely get a really sunny not so good guys that were close to these in level with these guys right so it's like you didn't see the names and just like freak out like I
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S02 Episode 10: Thorny Politics

S02 Episode 10: Thorny Politics

This American Life