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>Kenneth Bae </strong>is one of two American detainees released from North Korea this week. Bae had been held since late 2012, and in April 2013 was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for unspecified "hostile acts" against the North Korean government. North Korea claimed Bae was part of a Christian plot to overthrow the regime. In a short interview with CNN on September 1, Bae said he was working eight hours a day, six days a week at a labor camp. "Right now what I can say to my friends and family is, continue to pray for me," he said. Kenneth Bae is one of two American detainees released from North Korea this week. Bae had been held since late 2012, and in April 2013 was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for unspecified "hostile acts" against the North Korean government. North Korea claimed Bae was part of a Christian plot to overthrow the regime. In a short interview with CNN on September 1, Bae said he was working eight hours a day, six days a week at a labor camp. "Right now what I can say to my friends and family is, continue to pray for me," he said.
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
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
>
>>
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 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT