Among the many points of controversy to emerge following the swap of five Taliban prisoners for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is the question of whether the five mid- to high-level Taliban fighters will return to the battlefield. It's really no secret that according to the administration these five -- two of whom are wanted by the UN for possible war crimes, including the murder of thousands of Shiites -- very well may return to the battlefield.
There are important, qualitative differences in the criticisms Republicans have made in response to the prisoner swap that freed an American POW. For example, if Republicans want to make the case that the White House's congressional notification was inadequate, the GOP has a reasonable case to make.
But the right keeps muddling good questions with dumb talking points. Today, some Republican senators were reduced to attacking the Obama administration for even transferring Guantanamo detainees in the first place. "We're in a war," Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) argued. "I think this White House does not understand that."
President Obama isn't the first president to release detainees from Guantanamo Bay. I think congressional Republicans do not understand that.
Jake Tapper's report referenced this report (pdf) from the Director of National Intelligence, which found that the Bush/Cheney administration released or transferred 532 detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and U.S. intelligence agencies believe 171 of those people -- about a third -- "re-engaged" in the fight against the United States. This includes Bush-released detainees suspected of participating in the deadly attack on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya, two years ago.
In contrast, as of earlier this year, the Obama administration released or transferred 82 detainees from Guantanamo, and intelligence officials believe 7 of them -- less than a tenth -- returned to the battlefield.
Let's try this in chart form.
If President Obama's conservative critics want to make the case that releasing or transferring Guantanamo detainees is necessarily scandalous, it's incumbent on them to explain why they never said a word during the Bush/Cheney era.
If President Obama's conservative critics want to argue that releasing or transferring these detainees is dangerous, it's equally incumbent on them to explain why they never said a word during the Bush/Cheney era.
If President Obama's conservative critics believe end-of-war prisoner swaps are themselves somehow scandalous, it's once again incumbent on them to explain why it's never been controversial -- to either party -- when previous administrations did the same thing.
I know it's an election year and the right is looking for anything for an advantage, even if that means complaining about the release of an American prisoner of war. But Republicans really would have better off sticking to the "congressional notification" argument, at least if coherence was part of their broader goal.
Update: I've seen some folks on Twitter suggesting that there are other relevant metrics when evaluating the data, including the total number of suspects sent to the detention facility by administration, who many detainees were tried, the degree to which detainees were deemed dangerous, etc.
These are legitimate points, to be sure. But the Republican criticism of late has been more straightforward: Obama released Guantanamo prisoners, those prisoners are Taliban members, the prisoners may someday return to the battlefield, ergo Obama has done something reckless and irresponsible. (In Ron Fournier's words, the president may end up with "blood on his hands.")
If the right genuinely believes releasing or transferring Guantanamo prisoners represents a security threat, my point is that it's curious these conservatives had so little to say before Jan. 20, 2009.