The Bergdahl deal: The authorized version

The Washington Post (here, story by Scott Wilson and Anne Gearan) and the New York Times (here, story by Mark Mazzetti, Eric Schmitt, David Sanger and Helene Cooper) float approved versions of the deal that resulted in Bowe Bergdahl’s release from the custody of the Taliban.

Here is a key part of the Post’s account, explaining how the five Taliban leaders Obama agreed to release from Guantanamo became part of the deal:

The negotiations for Bergdahl’s release took shape in the early months of 2011 and evolved over the next three years into the agreement announced over the weekend.

When the talks began as part of what U.S. officials hoped would be a broader Afghan peace effort, U.S. envoys were forbidden to offer any detainees held in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as part of a trade for Bergdahl. According to people familiar with the process, negotiators were allowed to include only Taliban fighters held at the detention center at Bagram air base, outside Kabul.

Those restrictions put Taliban moderates open to peace talks — including Tayeb Agha, who was appointed by Taliban leader Mohammad Omar to represent him in the negotiations — in a difficult position with the movement’s more hard-line elements.

As one person familiar with the discussions — who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the secret negotiations — said, Agha could not sell that deal.

The Taliban countered with a list of six senior Taliban officials being held at Guantanamo Bay. The list included the five Taliban commanders released as part of the Bergdahl agreement, as well as a sixth who died during the talks, which stretched from February 2011 until June 2012.

Hey, whatever it takes, no price too high and all the rest. It represents another manifestation of the administration’s approach to those it deems would-be friends like the mad mullahs of Iran. The administration is going to get to yes.

And, seriously: the Taliban played good cop/bad cop with Obama? They must have learned something watching Obama’s negotiations with Tehran, which resulted in the interim deal announced in November. The deal with the Taliban picked up steam in December.

Both accounts ignore or beg key questions. The Post presents the one-year travel ban — what a pathetic fig leaf — as the key to the deal from the administration’s perspective.

The Times conceals the administration’s thinking under this cover: “Issues that had bitterly divided the Obama administration — about the wisdom of the prisoner swap and the risks of releasing a group of aging Taliban commanders from Guantánamo Bay — were swept aside in the rush to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s release.” And this is a friendly account.

The administration’s assessment of the contribution the five would make to the Taliban’s continuing efforts in Afghanistan is not directly addressed. Bergdahl’s apparent desertion does not factor into either account.

Did the administration think Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers would remain silent? Someone seemed to think their silence was important. Perhaps the Post or the Times can spare a reporter to track down the thinking behind the nondisclosure agreements intended to secure their silence.

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