As news is released that American aid worker, Warren Weinstein, was killed in by the not-so-friendly fire of a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan, the country is reminded that the Obama administration is terribly inconsistent in its terrorist negotiation policies. Weinstein, along with an Italian national, Giovanni Lo Porto, were killed along with other terror operatives including two Americans converted to the cause. In a stunning press announcement, Obama took full responsibility for the tragic accidental deaths that were part of a routine counter-terrorism strike conducted in Pakistan. He offered condolences and profound regrets to the families of the victims. What Obama did not offer was an explanation for why his administration would willingly negotiate for the release of alleged deserter and terrorist sympathizer, Bowe Bergdahl, yet refuse to negotiate with the same terrorist organizations for the humanitarian release of an aging American aid worker. Sadly, that release becomes mortally irrelevant as Weinstein was killed along side his captors earlier this year.
When Weinstein, a 70-year-old volunteer, serving the people of Pakistan, was abducted from a residence in 2012, Al Qaeda leader, Ayman Zawahiri soon appeared in a video claiming responsibility for the hostage and making demands. Zawahiri made the usual demands for the discontinuation of air strikes against assets in the region, as well as the release of Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in detention at the Guantanamo Bay facility. At the time, Obama press spokesman, Jay Carney, expressed concern for Weinstein’s safety and committed to the talks for his release. He also explicitly stated, “we cannot and will not negotiate with Al Qaeda.” This policy has been followed historically on a bi-partisan basis by administrations. Coalescing to the demands of terrorists and bullies alike only encourage this type of aggression and terror.
It therefore raises a specter of gross inconsistency that the Obama administration would make such a marked departure from this policy in the willing release of five militants from Gitmo in a prisoner swap for American soldier, Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl deserted his post in Afghanistan in 2009 and was taken into Taliban captivity, a hostage until his release last year. Testimony from other soldiers deployed in his unit confirmed his desertion years before his release. In spite of this mounting evidence, President Obama conducted a Rose Garden ceremony with Bergdahl’s parents celebrating the release and return of an honorable soldier and son. Obama also sent national security advisor, Susan Rice, out to talk shows proclaiming Bergdahl’s honorable service. In March, the Army charged Bergdahl with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Critics on both sides of the aisle in Congress decried Obama’s prisoner exchange as a gross inconsistency in terrorist negotiation policy; undermining the authority and integrity of the United States. If convicted, Bergdahl faces life imprisonment.
Warren Weinstein’s imprisonment was cut tragically short by what many human rights experts are calling an unlawful drone strike on the soil of another sovereign country. The use of drone attacks against terrorist installations has long been an important component in the U.S. counter-terrorism effort. Officials claim that this attack, as well as others perpetrated in the past, was legal and conducted within policy guidelines. To Obama’s credit, he intentionally declassified the mission to allow for a thorough review of what went wrong in intelligence. Critics of this drone policy point out that the strikes are “extra-judicial” and deny the victims of the strikes due process. They say there is no difference between an indiscriminate drone strike against an alleged terrorist target and the advanced interrogation procedures that Nobel peace laureate Obama labels as torture.
Weinstein’s wife and family released a statement calling for a “coordinated and consistent approach” to dealing with hostages and their families. However, when comparisons are made between the manner in which Weinstein’s circumstances were officially handled versus those of alleged terrorist-sympathizer, Beau Bergdahl, the gross inconsistency in the Obama administration’s terrorist negotiation policy becomes brutally obvious. Unfortunately, this inconsistency may have indirectly contributed to the accidental death of a real American hero, Warren Weinstein.
Opinion by Chris Marion
Photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jeromy K. Cross – Flickr License