Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who was a prisoner of war, said the administration's rationale kept shifting. At one point, the administration used a video from early this year to show that Sergeant Bergdahl was in ill health, and it later asserted that the Taliban were threatening his life. "They're not going to kill an American prisoner," Mr. McCain said. "That's why they keep him alive. It is of utmost value to them to keep an American prisoner alive. Look what they got for it."
The Senate Armed Services Committee this morning began the first of many hearings into the prisoner swap that freed an American POW, and the early indications suggest the exploration is going about as one might expect.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), fresh off his primary victory yesterday, insisted that the five transferred Guantanamo detainees "have American blood on their hands." Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a former Graham ally when they were both Republican senators, explained that the detainees "have not been implicated in any attacks against" the United States, which will almost certainly have no bearing on Republicans' willingness to repeat the talking point.
But as senators prepared for the hearing yesterday, the rhetoric was just as discouraging.
I shouldn't be surprised, but even for McCain, this is hard to stomach.
First, when it comes to condemning a policy he supports, the Republican lawmaker has been flip-flopping all over the place, even getting called out by Beltway media that usually gives McCain the benefit of the doubt. If anyone should avoid talking about shifting rationales, it's the senior senator from Arizona.
Second, if McCain genuinely believes the Taliban is disinclined to kill American prisoners, I'd urge the senator to review what's happened in the region over the last several years. One need not be a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee to remember names like Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg, and realize that militants have already killed American prisoners*.
That McCain seems to have forgotten the Taliban's track record is concerning given his role in the foreign policy debate.
As for the senator's general line of criticism, I'd just note once more that McCain was asked a few months ago whether he'd support the exact same deal that freed Bowe Bergdahl. He said he would.
Then President Obama pursued the policy McCain endorsed, at which point McCain decided the policy was a terrible idea and that the Taliban doesn't kill American prisoners.
I long ago gave up waiting for the Beltway to stop taking McCain's foreign policy views seriously, though I'd someday love to hear a compelling explanation for his ongoing credibility.
* edited slightly for clarity