Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Will the U.S. negotiate with terrorists?

By Peter Bergen and Bailey Cahall
updated 2:19 PM EST, Wed February 19, 2014
<strong>Alan Gross</strong>, at right with Rabbi Arthur Schneier, has been in Cuban custody since December 2009, when he was jailed while working as a subcontractor. Cuban authorities say Gross tried to set up illegal Internet connections on the island. Gross says he was just trying to help connect the Jewish community to the Internet. Former President Jimmy Carter and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson have both traveled to Cuba on Gross' behalf. On December 17, Gross was released from Cuban prison. Alan Gross, at right with Rabbi Arthur Schneier, has been in Cuban custody since December 2009, when he was jailed while working as a subcontractor. Cuban authorities say Gross tried to set up illegal Internet connections on the island. Gross says he was just trying to help connect the Jewish community to the Internet. Former President Jimmy Carter and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson have both traveled to Cuba on Gross' behalf. On December 17, Gross was released from Cuban prison.
HIDE CAPTION
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
Americans detained abroad
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Peter Bergen: The U.S. won't negotiate with terrorists, but will it make an exception?
  • Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is believed to be held by the Haqqani group, a terror wing of Afghan Taliban
  • Bergen: Talks would be held with Afghan Taliban, which is not directly a terrorist group
  • Bergen: U.S. combat troops leaving Afghanistan, it's time to swap POWs, including Bergdahl

Editor's note: Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a director at the New America Foundation and the author of "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden -- From 9/11 to Abbottabad." Bailey Cahall is a policy analyst at the New America Foundation.

(CNN) -- The U.S. government's long-stated position is that it won't negotiate with terrorists. But are there exceptions?

U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American prisoner of war, is believed to be held in Pakistan by the Haqqani group.

The Haqqani group is part of the larger Taliban network and has engaged in a range of attacks on civilian targets in Afghanistan, such as the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Treasury Department named three of the Haqqani group's leaders as "Specially Designated Global Terrorists," and noted that the organization "poses a grave threat to U.S. civilians, military personnel, and our broader interests in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region."

Two years ago, the U.S. State Department also formally listed the Haqqani network as a foreign terrorist organization.

Yet on Monday, The Washington Post quoted U.S. officials who said the government was going to resume talks with the Afghan Taliban and offer to trade five Taliban prisoners held at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl, who has been held since 2009.

Does that mean the United States is negotiating with a terrorist group?

In fact, the Haqqanis are part of the larger Afghan Taliban network, but the Afghan Taliban itself is not listed by the U.S. State Department as a foreign terrorist organization, which enables the United States to have direct talks with the Afghan Taliban, which it has been doing for years secretly, according to multiple U.S. officials familiar with the talks.

U.S. to swap terror suspects for P.O.W.?
U.S. to swap terror suspects for P.O.W.?
New video of missing U.S. soldier

This means that discussions about the release of Bergdahl with the Afghan Taliban are not directly with a terrorist organization per se, but instead with an insurgent group that has a terrorist wing.

For some this may seem to be a distinction without a difference, but as a matter of U.S. policy this is a very important distinction. Consider the case of another American who is held hostage in Pakistan, Warren Weinstein, a contractor for the U.S. Agency of International Development who was kidnapped by al Qaeda in Lahore, Pakistan, more than two years ago.

In December, a proof-of-life video was released to international media outlets, in which Weinstein called on President Obama to negotiate for his release. As with Bergdahl, the release of Guantanamo detainees was among his captors' conditions.

U.S. officials have called for Weinstein's release. But the United States has never negotiated with al Qaeda and would not want to encourage the group to kidnap other Americans living in Pakistan, so it seems out of the question that U.S. officials would negotiate with al Qaeda for Weinstein's release.

That said, U.S. officials will certainly be working behind the scenes to put pressure on the Pakistan government to try to secure Weinstein's release.

The fact that Bergdahl is being held by the Haqqanis does raise another issue, however, which is: Even if you get a deal with the Afghan Taliban for Bergdahl's release, would the Haqqani network, which operates quite independently from the Afghan Taliban, go along with it?

The consensus among Taliban experts is, likely, yes. Anand Gopal, a fellow at the New America Foundation who has interviewed multiple members of the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, says the Haqqanis would honor such a deal because "they take great pains to present themselves as part of the mainstream Taliban movement -- even if in practice they are independent -- and not going along would be an affront to the Taliban, possibly damaging relations."

According to the Washington Post report, the U.S. government has not yet made a formal offer for Bergdahl, who has spent almost five years in captivity. But the political situation around Bergdahl's release may be shifting slightly in favor of a resolution. In 2103, the Obama administration quietly released 11 prisoners from Guantanamo and it didn't generate much criticism from opponents of the administration.

Two months ago, Congress also eased up on some of the restrictions that had previously prevented prisoners being released from Guantanamo.

Also, U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan are pulling out at the end of December, which is, of course, a key Taliban demand. This means, as both a practical and legal matter, that the United States will then no longer be at war in Afghanistan, although there will likely be some residual force of U.S. soldiers in an advisory role post-2014.

When wars are over, the warring parties traditionally exchange their prisoners of war. With all U.S. combat soldiers returning home from Afghanistan during the course of this year, it is high time for Bergdahl to be one of them.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:27 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 8:12 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT