Sen. John McCain flip-flops on prisoner exchanges


nixon_greets_pow_mccainJohn McCain spent six years in the Hanoi Hilton as a guest of the North Vietnamese Army. In his memoir Faith of My Fathers, McCain says that he initially offered information to his captors because he was badly injured and afraid of dying. But, he wrote, “I didn’t intend to keep my word.” McCain was repeatedly tortured, and at one point he broke down and signed a confession (which deliberately used misspellings, grammatical errors and Communist jargon to show he was writing under duress). John McCain did nothing dishonorable. His time as a prisoner of war was nothing less than heroic.

Yet when John McCain ran for president in 2ooo and 2008, conservative Republicans accused him of “collaboration” with the enemy. There are lots of vicious attacks from conservative Republicans still on the Internet. This is what these people do, it is who they are, hate is their only reason for living.

So one would expect John McCain to be circumspect in any criticism of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. He should be willing to give Bergdahl every benefit of the doubt, given his own experience as a prisoner of war, and happily welcome a fellow POW home. They are members of an exclusive club.

Given McCain’s own experience being viciously attacked by the bottom-feeding sewer dwellers of the conservative media entertainment complex, one would expect him to show the “statesman-like” leadership we are told he possesses to demand that these attacks on Bergdahl and his family cease immediately, and to let the military do its job. Bergdahl is entitled to due process. And yet . . .

Steve Benen writes today, McCain rejects evidence, accuses critics of ‘lying’:

Republican reversals on securing the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl have been jaw-dropping for much of the week. As we discussed yesterday, Republicans were happy about an American POW coming home; then they changed their minds. Republicans endorsed the prisoner swap itself; then they changed their minds. Republicans extended their thoughts and prayers to Bergdahl and his family; then they changed their minds. Republicans demanded that the Obama administration had a responsibility to do everything humanly possible to free this POW from his captors; then they changed their minds.

But perhaps no one has been quite as brazen in the flip-flop department as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who’s still treated as a credible figure on matters related to foreign policy and the military, despite his poor track record. The Arizona Republican expressed public support for the prisoner-swap, then did a 180-degree turn after President Obama pursued the court McCain endorsed.

Apparently, the senator is angry that his shameless flip-flop has been noticed.

“The details are unacceptable and for anyone to accuse me, therefore, of saying that I’d support any prisoner swap under any circumstances is lying,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

“And the details are outrageous. They went to Qatar, where the Taliban has an office, and in a year they are going to be out and the deal is, like any other agreement, as I said, in the details,” McCain said on CNN, explaining his opposition to the swap. “I mean, it’s just totally unacceptable. These people would be back in the fight.”

It’s hard to know if McCain actually believes what he’s saying. Indeed, the senator has never been detail-oriented, so perhaps he doesn’t fully understand the nature of the recent criticism.

But in reality, as the New York Times’ editorial board noted today, McCain “switched positions for maximum political advantage” — as he’s done “so often in the past.”

The lawmaker can throw around words like “lying” if he chooses, but a closer look at the facts lead to only one conclusion.

As far back as 2011, the Obama administration was in talks with the Taliban about securing Bergdahl’s release, in exchange for five specific detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison, who would then be transferred to Qatar. Members of Congress, including McCain, were aware of these talks and knew exactly which five Taliban prisoners would be included in the prisoner-swap.

In 2012, McCain was asked about this during a national television interview. Though he said he’d need all of the details, the senator said he “would support” the exchange.

And then the Obama administration made the exchange, at which point McCain condemned the exact same policy he’d already endorsed.*

[*Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler today, Did McCain flip-flop on Bergdahl?:

The Pinocchio Test

We fully appreciate that the details of a prisoner exchange are important, and McCain certainly made that caveat clear. But since the deal was announced, he has suggested that the question of trading the Taliban Five for Bergdahl was a surprise — and that’s certainly not the case. These five men were always part of the prisoner swap, so that is not a detail that can be in dispute. Indeed, only a day after The Washington Post revealed that a deal was in the works to trade the five men for Bergdahl, McCain appeared on television with what was billed as a “new position.”

McCain is on a bit stronger ground when he objects to a one-year stay in Qatar. The length of the detention was not clear in February, though the former detainees will remain longer in Qatar (to mid 2015) than was contemplated under earlier proposals (end of 2014.)

But what is the point of a prisoner swap if the released prisoners are not at some point going to be free? By the very nature of such a deal, an experienced lawmaker (and former POW) like McCain should expect that the Taliban Five would have been able to go free eventually.

McCain may have thought he left himself an out when he said his support was dependent on the details. But then he can’t object to the most important detail — the identity of the prisoners — that was known at the time he indicated his support. McCain earns an upside-down Pinocchio, constituting a flip-flop.]

Indeed, perhaps unaware his own position, McCain has been quite unconstrained in denouncing the swap he used to support, calling it “outrageous” and “unacceptable.” At a classified briefing yesterday, the senator reportedly “walked out shortly after shouting at an official.” [Now that’s the ill-tempered McCain we all know.]

Tantrums don’t change the facts.

What surprises me is McCain’s willingness to keep digging. His audacious reversal was uncovered on Tuesday, at which point the senator could have laid low so as to not draw attention to his shameless, knee-jerk opposition to an idea he supported.

The one senator who has the moral authority to do right by a fellow POW is instead politicizing his release in pursuit of the Neocon agenda to maintain a perpetual “war on terror,” and to keep the prisoners at Guantanomo Bay there until their deaths.

The war in Afghanistan is coming to an end. Under the Geneva Conventions, prisoners of this war must be released and repatriated if they are not tried and convicted for war crimes. These are the long-established rules of war that John McCain and his puppet boy, Little Lindsey Graham, Graham warns of Republican impeachment push over Gitmo, refuse to accept. There is something dangerously wrong with these men.


  1. Once again Senator McCain shows that he is losing his grip on reality. I do believe this angry old man is not aware of his positions on issues from one day to the next. Short-term memory loss perhaps? Why he is the darling of the Washington media is a mystery? It’s time for him to leave the Senate. No state deserves to be represented by two “flakes.”

  2. I feel bad for Bowe Bergdah’s parents who have to listen to hateful ignorance. I hear they don’t have a TV. That’s good.
    It is the war mongers, those responsible for so much death and wounded bodies and spirit, that have decided Bowe is not worthy for release. These people and their desire for endless war disgust me, and they should disgust all Americans.

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