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WASHINGTON — Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, is demanding to know what others in Washington have virtually only dared whisper: Did President Obama pay a ransom to terrorists to secure the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl?
The highly provocative ransom question is actually an obvious one, because even though Bergdahl was turned over by the Taliban, he wasn’t held by the Taliban. He was held for five years by the ruthless Haqqani network, which is infamous for raising money by ransoming prisoners.
“The Haqqani network generally does not release Westerners unless they receive a large payment. It would be hard to believe they would release Bergdahl in an exchange that does not directly benefit them,” the congressman said in a summation of a letter he sent to Obama.
That assessment was confirmed in an analysis just released by WND security expert and former pentagon analyst F. Michael Maloof, who called the Haqqani network a notoriously violent Islamic movement out of Pakistan that uses kidnappings to raise money.
Stockman said such serious concerns have led many to now question whether the U.S. government, either directly or through a third party, agreed to cash payments as part of the Bergdahl exchange agreement.
He also said the release of five dangerous Taliban leaders in exchange for Bergdahl has caused many to doubt whether the president has been truthful with Congress. Stockman said Americans deserve to know if the president “paid off a terrorist group” in a swap for the soldier.
The Texan noted the Haqqani network demanded ransoms for other high-profile captives, such as $5 million for Afghan diplomat Haji Khaliq Farahi and $15 million for New York Times journalist David Rohde. Farahi was freed for his ransom, while Rohde escaped before ransom could be collected.
Terrorism expert Gretchen Peters of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point suggested that the network’s decision to hold Bergdahl indicated it was seeking a large payment for the American service member.
“Regardless of his actions, Bergdahl should be returned to the United States, but not in exchange for cash or five extremely dangerous terrorist leaders Obama was told would seek to kill Americans if freed,” Stockman told WND.
“Obama’s folly broke the law and makes the world less safe. The Taliban are celebrating their victory and say this encourages them to kidnap more Americans,” he added.
Sources told Maloof that Bergdahl was held most likely in Pakistan’s northern province of North Waziristan, then the Haqqani network passed Bergdahl to its close ally, the Afghan Taliban. The soldier then was brought to eastern Afghanistan’s Khost province to be handed over to U.S. Special Forces in exchange for five top Taliban commanders.
That could have been a way to technically evade U.S. policy against paying money to terrorist groups.
The Haqqani network is officially listed by the U.S. as a terrorist group, while the Taliban is not.
Video of the Haqqani network:
Because the Afghan Taliban has never made it on to the U.S. terrorist list, as has the Haqqani network, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel already has begun to nuance the release.
Hagel said Bergdahl’s release was considered a “prisoner of war exchange,” since the Taliban five were from a sovereign country.
“We didn’t negotiate with terrorists,” Hagel insists.
However, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said, Bergdahl "was not a prisoner of war; he was with the Haqqani network, which is a terrorist organization."
Like Hagel, the White House asserts that the negotiations for Bergdahl’s release were directly with the Afghan Taliban and not with the Haqqani network.
However, Maloof notes, the Qataris worked directly with the Haqqanis.
A question remains of whether someone put up the money for Bergdahl’s release and whether it was the Obama administration or the Qataris. Or did the administration provide a ransom through the Qataris?
In either case, it could put the Obama administration in the position of directly funding a terrorist organization which has killed American soldiers.
Among the five Taliban terrorist leaders released from Guantanamo and exchanged for Bergdahl were an army chief of staff, a deputy minister of intelligence and a former interior minister.
By agreement, the five Taliban commanders will be held in Qatar for a year, however, Maloof observed, they easily could continue assisting in planning operations.
Here is the text of Stockman's letter to Obama:
June 5, 2014
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20006
Your agreement to release five dangerous Taliban leaders in exchange for U.S. Army Spc. Bowe Bergdahl has caused many Americans to doubt whether you have been truthful with Congress.
The release of terrorists is not the only part of the agreement raising concerns about White House actions that may violate the law or place service members in jeopardy.
As you know, the Haqqani Network, which held Bergdahl, is known for financing their terrorist operations through ransoming hostages. The Haqqani Network generally will not release a prisoner unless they also receive a substantial cash payment.
“(Haqqani commander Mullah Sangeen Zadran) is believed to have orchestrated the kidnappings of Afghans and foreign nationals in his control zone, among them the captured U.S. soldier, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl...The fact that Bergdahl remains in his custody and not in Miran Shah under Badruddin’s watch, suggests that Sangeen maintains considerable autonomy within the network and perhaps imagines he will directly earn a ransom payment in exchange for the American serviceman (emphasis added),” writes Gretchen Peters of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in “Haqqani Network Financing: The Evolution of an Industry.”
The Haqqani Network demanded ransoms for other high-profile captives, such as $5 million for Afghan diplomat Haji Khaliq Farahi and $15 million for New York Times journalist David Rohde. Farahi was freed for his ransom, while Rohde escaped before his ransom could be collected.
“It was also clear that Rohde’s captors were motivated by financial self‐interest and a desire to secure the release of Taliban prisoners,” writes Peters. Bergdahl, a uniformed American service member, was an especially valuable asset to the Haqqani Network.
This has led to concerns the U.S. government, either directly or through a third party, agreed to cash payments as part of the Bergdahl exchange agreement.
I request full answers to the following questions:
1) Did Bergdahl’s captors, or anyone associated with his captivity, request renumeration in exchange for Berghdal?
2) Did you or anyone authorized by or associated with your Administration, authorize any form of compensation, direct or third party, in exchange for Bergdahl?
3) If you or anyone authorized by or associated with your Administration, authorized any form of compensation, direct or third party, in exchange for Bergdahl would you deny it?
4) Would you agree that cash payments to the Haqqani Network, by any party, assists the Network in carrying out violent and terrorist acts?
5) Would you agree that cash payments to the Haqqani Network, by any party, constitute material support to terrorists?
6) The late Michael Hastings, reporting for “Rolling Stone” in 2012, wrote, “’It (Bergdahl’s release) could be a huge win if Obama could bring him home,’ says a senior administration official familiar with the negotiations. ‘Especially in an election year, if it's handled properly.’” Was the Bergdahl exchange agreement discussed with or shared with anyone on the White House’s political staff? What was the date and nature of the communication?
I request written answers to these questions within seven days of the date of this letter.
Member of Congress
Member, House Foreign Affairs Committee
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth