The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes was my guest to open the show today. His new piece on the the Taliban-for-Sgt. Bergdahl deal is required reading.
HH: Over the weekend, it was announced that five Taliban terrorists are being freed from Gitmo in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Two people more than any other in the country, Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard, and Jake Tapper of CNN, have been covering this. And Jake’s coming up after the break. Stephen Hayes joins me now. Stephen from the Weekly Standard, welcome, good to talk to you.
SH: High, Hugh, good to be back.
HH: Can you summarize the piece which I’ve just tweeted out. We swore an oath to uphold, and we upheld ours. He did not. What’s the point of this piece?
SH: Well, the point of it is, in a sense, it’s the follow up to the piece that Jake Tapper reported yesterday, which is the definitive piece on all of this. In my piece that we posted this afternoon, I spoke to some members of Bowe Bergdahl’s platoon, and they basically told me what he was like, and what the circumstances of his disappearance were like and what it means. And I talked to other folks who were part of the rescue efforts and shared some of their thoughts as well.
HH: Now the general view as I can piece it together from Tapper’s reporting yesterday and your piece is that there isn’t anyone in his unit who believes he was other than a deserter. Is that fair?
SH: Certainly we haven’t heard from anybody who doesn’t believe that, and I think it’s fairly clear, you’ve also had mainstream, left-leaning publications like the Rolling Stone, like the New York Times, like the Washington Post report without qualification that he walked away from his unit. So that, to me, I think is beyond dispute at this point.
HH: The other aspect of the story that’s become obvious to me that is not well known, and Jake reported this on the Lead earlier today is at least six Americans lost their lives looking for Bowe Bergdahl. In fact, I want to play for you a clip from the Lead that was earlier, maybe an hour ago on CNN.
JT: Soldiers on the ground at the time tell CNN that insurgents were able to take advantage of the massive military undertaking to try to rescue Bergdahl with IED’s placed more effectively, and ambushes more calculated. At least six Americans were killed in that effort over the following weeks, troops on the ground tell CNN – Staff Sgt. Clayton Bowen, Private First Class Morris Walker, Staff Sgt. Kirk Curtiss, Second Lt. Darryn Andrews, Private First Class Matthew Martinek, Staff Sgt. Michael Murphrey. For their parents, this moment will never come.
HH: Now Stephen Hayes, I like the fact that Tapper and others are mentioning Bowen, Andrews, Martinek, Walker, Curtiss and Murphrey to be very specific about the cost of this person’s actions. But would it really enter into our calculation? And would we have done the same thing, or would we have hesitated if it was the hero of the Reg Hawk, if it was Marcus Luttrell himself, his twin brother? Would it make the key determination here any different?
SH: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s one of the big questions. For me, I don’t think it would. I mean, I certainly understand the principle we leave no one behind.
SH: I think to be exchanging prisoners with the Taliban, particularly for the kinds of people that we in effect let go. I mean, we’re sending them to Qatar. They’re supposedly going to be monitored, but we all know the history of what monitoring former Guantanamo prisoners means. It means very little. Nearly 30% are either known or suspected recidivists at this point. And virtually all of them have been, we’ve been given assurances that they were going to be monitored upon their departure from Guantanamo. So those assurances don’t mean very much at this point. I think the nature of those prisoners makes this particularly egregious, and while you know, to a certain extent, I understand the argument, the principled argument that says we have someone in uniform. It doesn’t matter whether he’s a deserter or a hero. We are going to do everything we can to get our soldier back. I get that. But I have a hard time, particularly given the circumstances that we’ve seen with respect to these Taliban prisoners.
HH: Stephen, has anyone discussed with you, yet, and this is down the road, but we are creating five rock stars. I mean, we are creating five Osama bin Ladens. These guys will have international notoriety for having survived in captivity a dozen years at Gitmo, or however long they were there. They’re not going to just become another battlefield combatant. They are superstars among the jihadi elite now.
SH: No question. I mean, there’s a history to support your supposition. If you go back and you look at some of the other Guantanamo detainees who have gone back to the fight, they reenter the fight at senior levels. I mean, anybody who spent time in Guantanamo is idolized in sort of jihadi world. And these folks were already senior Taliban officials. You have senior ranking intelligence and defense officials. You have an intermediary between the Taliban and Iran in the post-9/11 world. These are folks who already occupied sort of senior status, and they are going to be revered. And I think we will find out within days that jihadists are raising money already by the fact that these guys are out. They’ll be raising money and doing everything they can to promote that.
HH: Stephen Hayes, I also wonder whether or not we’ll be seeing them staying the entire time they’re supposed to be in Qatar. I was just told last week that Qatar is becoming an increasingly unstable ally of the other Arab states, the Gulf states, that they are the hard core and estranged from their Saudi cousins. Have you been picking up on this?
SH: Yes, absolutely. I mean, there is no question that, I mean, this is one of the reasons we shouldn’t take any comfort in the fact that we got Qatar supposedly tracking these guys. And Tom Joscelyn from the Foundation For the Defense of Democracies has a terrific piece on the Weekly Standard website right now about exactly why we should be concerned with respect to Qatar. But I mean, they’re sort of openly financing some of the worst of the worst jihadists fighting in Syria right now, providing a ton of the weapons, providing a lot of the funding, the backing for those guys to perpetuate that war. It’s not any place that you’d feel happy about sending these guys with any assurance that they’re going to be watched. And as I say, I mean, we’ve had detainees that have gone to friendly sort of Western-learning countries that haven’t been tracked or monitored very well. So it’s a big, it’s a huge worrisome development. I think the one year travel ban, even if that’s fully enforced, and these folks are, unless there are aspects of this agreement that we don’t yet know about, and I can’t imagine why the administration wouldn’t put out if it were tighter than it is, these guys are going to be able to travel. I mean to me, it’s absolutely incredible that this deal has been struck.
HH: Now Stephen Hayes, I will ask Jake Tapper this. Hillary Clinton will be on the book circuit shortly, being interviewed by, among others, your colleague on Fox News, Bret Baier and Greta Van Susteren, and Robin Roberts, and Diane Sawyer. This deal surfaced when she was secretary of State. It did not go through. Is it fair game to press her for her reaction to this deal?
SH: Of course. I mean, look, if she wants to be a presidential candidate, I think virtually anything is fair game, anything in public policy. But particularly because this was sort of her area, it was the State Department. If you read some of the accounts about the negotiations, how long they’d been taking place, and certainly this isn’t new. The parameters of this deal have been being discussed in public and reported in public for more than three years. So certainly this stretches back into the Hillary Clinton era at the State Department. I would not only think it’s fair for her to be asked about it, it would be almost crazy if she weren’t asked about it and pressed repeatedly to give full answers about her involvement, what she thought of it then, and what she thinks of it now.
HH: Now I have a lengthy piece in the Washington Examiner today, Hayes, about the questions I think she ought to be asked about Benghazi. You wrote about the fact that she’s trying a preemptive strike to seal off Benghazi from her book tour. Do you think that strike’s going to work? Or do you expect any or all of these journalists to bear down on what did you know and when did you know it, when did you do, and when did you do it?
SH: Well, I read your piece when it was posted, and I think it’s a terrific piece. I hope that the, not just the Republicans, Republicans and Democrats on the select committee will consider asking her some of those questions. They were good questions, including many that I hadn’t thought of before. Yeah, look, she is going to try to hold herself out as somehow above politics. We saw that in this leak of the chapter that went to Maggie Haberman of Politico, who wrote a very good, I think, comprehensive story about both the chapter and how the Clintons are likely to handle it. But it’s an argument that just doesn’t work. I mean, you know, you want to talk about how this was politicized, I mean, you can point to any of a number of things. But you know, for instance, go back to the first week when Hillary Clinton put out a statement about the video on the evening of September 11th, or when she told the family members at the casket ceremony, the arrival ceremony, that they were going to get the filmmaker. I mean, there have been politics in this from the beginning. It’s regrettable when either side does it, for those of us who just want to find out what happened and get to the truth. But she should expect to answer questions about this on her book tour, and I think until she provides answers that we can verify and check, and answers that actually satisfy the public’s need to know what happened.
HH: And a last question, Stephen Hayes, in terms of the centrality of this week, Afghanistan decision, West Point speech, prisoner deal, is the President pursuing a grand strategy on Afghanistan? Or are these all ad hoc decisions just coming sequentially?
HH: No, I think it’s much more of a strategy. I mean, the administration had put out, going back last week, they had been backgrounding reporters and telling them that they were going to be spending the next two weeks, in fact, on foreign policy and national security issues, that that was going to be sort of the subject of the debate. And I think this is part of that debate.
HH: Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard, great piece this afternoon, linked and tweeted out, America.
End of interview.