Opinion

Yes, we negotiate with ‘terrorists.’ It’s the necessary new normal.

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl arrives for a pretrial hearing at Fort Bragg, N.C. on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016.
Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl arrives for a pretrial hearing at Fort Bragg, N.C. on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. The Associated Press

Two of the most recent prisoner/personnel exchanges to take place involving U.S. citizens held hostage in foreign lands involved Idahoans.

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, of Hailey, got his freedom from Taliban-affiliated captors in 2014 after nearly five years; pastor Saeed Abedini, of Boise, was released from his Iranian imprisoners just last weekend after more than three years.

Putting aside for a moment the circumstances that led to their lengthy captivity and reported torture, I am ecstatic these two American citizens have been freed.

I guess I am one of those people who believes any imprisoned U.S. soldier, regardless of his behavior, deserves and ought to expect his country to come for him should he fall into enemy hands. Were that not the case, every recruiting station in the U.S. should put such a disclaimer in large print on any enlistment contract.

I feel the same way about any U.S. citizen, such as Abedini, especially since his crime amounted to practicing his Christian faith in Iran, a country with a history of holding American hostages and sponsoring terror.

A number of opportunistic politicians have taken exception to the negotiations and the terms of the release of these Idahoans (and others freed via these “exchanges”). They invoke the old axiom: “We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

When rogue thugs kidnap American citizens abroad and demand money, the “we don’t negotiate” mantra has some credence. Some of the experiences of countries other than the U.S. that pay ransoms have had tragic results.

There are times when “we don’t negotiate” was a necessary, and sometimes fatal, tough-love stance. But before you stand by this rule without exception today, get off your abstract high horse and consult the loved ones of those being held.

This is a new and dangerous world we live in. Where once kidnappers’ motives were mostly criminal, well, not so much anymore. The evil abductors of Americans come in many flavors, ranging from cold-blooded killers advancing an ideology to “state actors” (recognized countries like Iran), from regional terrorists such as ISIS to some factions of the Taliban that exist on or outside borders and battlefields.

“It’s so much different than what we have dealt with in the past,” said Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, who serves on the Select Committee on Intelligence and the Foreign Relations Committee. The “we don’t negotiate” mantra today is a one-size-fits-all slogan that rarely fits modern situations, Risch said.

“Outside of a kidnapping, you have to look at these situations on a case-by-case basis,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Though he is pleased when Idahoans come home, it’s his opinion that deals too often seem to favor the opposition. But he does not discount the influence of an affected family’s point of view: “When you put it in a personal situation — that’s somebody’s loved one — you obviously look at it differently than some pragmatic government argument.”

Do the ends justify the means in the cases of Bergdahl and Abedini? “I don’t want to make that judgment,” Risch told me. “I can argue both sides of it.”

Bergdahl is home but is facing a court-martial. Abedini is decompressing in Germany and will soon be reunited with his wife and children on the East Coast.

We do negotiate with terrorists. Sometimes in this crazy world, there is no other option.

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