Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Will the U.S. negotiate with terrorists?

By Peter Bergen and Bailey Cahall
February 19, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
<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, but they were <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/20/world/cuba-u-s-contractor'>unable to secure his release.</a> 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, but they were unable to secure his release.
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
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
>
>>
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
July 13, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
To prevent war with North Korea over a comedy, what would Dennis Rodman say to Kim Jong Un? Movie critic Gene Seymour weighs in.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Michael Werz says in light of the spying cases, U.S. is seen as a paranoid society that can't tell friends from foes.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Eric Liu explains why in his new book, he calls himself "Chinese American" -- without a hyphen.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1512 GMT (2312 HKT)
John Bare says hands-on learning can make a difference in motivating students to acquire STEM skills.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Karl Alexander and Linda Olson find blacks and whites live in urban poverty with similar backgrounds, but white privilege wins out as they grow older.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
ADVERTISEMENT