News Coverage Misinforms Americans on the Bergdahl Swap

By:  Sheldon Richman
06/13/2014
       
News Coverage Misinforms Americans on the Bergdahl Swap

In national-security matters, the news media couldn’t do a better job misinforming the public if they tried. The latest example is their portrayal of the five Taliban officials traded for Bowe Bergdahl.

The media of course have an incentive to accentuate controversy. In the Bergdahl deal, this includes portraying the five Taliban prisoners as, in Sen. John McCain’s words, “hard-core jihadis responsible for 9/11.” McCain is wrong, but the major news outlets don’t care. Over and over, the five are identified as terrorists. Facts take a back seat to drama and conflict.

President Obama fed this narrative:

In terms of potential threats, the release of the Taliban who were being held in Guantánamo was conditioned on the Qataris keeping eyes on them and creating a structure in which we can monitor their activities. We will be keeping eyes on them. Is there a possibility of some of them trying to return to activities that are detrimental to us? Absolutely.

The media simply take the government’s word that the five Taliban figures are international terrorists. But the Taliban are not al-Qaeda. They were the theocratic government overthrown by U.S. forces. So when Taliban insurgents attack American forces, it is not terrorism but war, which the U.S government started.

There have been a few hints that the prisoners are not accurately described. A rare example is from the government’s former chief prosecutor at the American prison at Guantánamo Bay, retired Air Force Colonel Morris Davis. Davis punctured the “hardest of the hard-core” narrative when he said:

We had screened all of the detainees and we had focused on about 75 that had the potential to be charged with a crime. When I saw the names [of those traded] ... [I] wasn’t familiar with any of these names.... If we could have proven that they had done something wrong that we could prosecute them for I’m confident we would have done it, and we didn’t.

In fact, the story behind the five Taliban prisoners reflects poorly on the U.S. government’s conduct of its supposedly good war. Maybe that’s why this story gets so little attention.

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