When Bush Paid a Ransom for Hostages

When Bush Paid a Ransom for Hostages June 13, 2014

The right wing echo chamber is reverberating with the completely evidence-free speculation from Ollie North that the Obama administration paid money to the Taliban to secure the release of Beau Bergdahl. It began with his asking the question of whether it happened and, in typical fashion, immediately became a reality in the right wing fever swamps. But Michael Tomasky notes that George W. Bush actually did pay a ransom for hostages without a peep from these folks:

We turn now to the Philippines, where the Abu Sayyaf terror network—Islamic fundamentalist, al Qaeda-linked, occupant of a slot on the State Department’s official terrorist-organization list since Bill Clinton put it there in 1997—was rampaging around the southern archipelago and taking Westerners hostage. Two such hostages were an American husband-and-wife missionary team, Martin and Gracia Burnham. They were kidnapped in May 2001. Their captivity was a pretty big story for a while, but then came September, and the inferno of Lower Manhattan.

The Abu Sayyaf M.O. was the normal one—to demand large (or oddly not so large; the original demand for the Burnhams’ safety was $1 million) sums of money for their captives’ safe return. There were talks, and they bled into 2002. In April of that year, Bush gave a speech that included the line: “No nation can negotiate with terrorists, for there is no way to make peace with those whose only goal is death.”

A nice line. But of course, at that exact moment, the United States was negotiating intently with Abu Sayyaf for the Burnhams’ release. And not only that: The Bush administration arranged an indirect payment to Abu Sayyaf of $300,000, as reported a little later by ABC’s John McWethy, the veteran Pentagon correspondent, and even by Fox’s Brent Baier, whose phrasing had it that “the U.S. government facilitated a ransom payment to al Qaeda-linked terrorists.”

It seems that the payment was indirect rather than direct. But these days, that’s good enough for Ollie North (go reread his quote above). Even an indirect payment by the Obama administration to the Haqqani Network would clearly have these people screaming for impeachment hearings.

But then? Well, that was different. It was after 9/11. Bush was our Churchill. We were strong then, united! And sure enough, I find little record of conservative talking heads or elected Republicans criticizing Bush then, and alas not even any sense that cowed Democrats said much of anything.

How entirely unsurprising.

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  • Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    to secure the release of Beau Bergdahl

    Bowe, not Beau.

  • “Bowe, not Beau.”

    That’s the Foreign Legion version!

  • brucemartin

    Why is nobody mentioning the $56 million or whatever it was that GW Bush gave the Taliban around May of 2001, to thank them for restricting the opium crops of their enemies?

  • justsomeguy

    OLIVER NORTH is criticizing somebody for allegedly giving government money to a gang of violent radicals?

  • coragyps

    “Bush was our Churchill.”

    Talk about activating my gag reflex…….

  • busterggi

    Shrub Jr. learned all about paying terrorists from his old man & Saint Ronald.

    Repubs are evidence that psychopathy is a lot more common than expected.

  • Sure, but things were totally different back then. For one thing, Obama wasn’t president yet.

  • D. C. Sessions

    Bush was our Churchill

    Well, there are some similarities. Maybe even aside from drinking.

  • howardhershey

    If you refuse to negotiate with terrorists, then you are declaring that their prisoner is worthless and they should be disposed of (aka, killed) rather than be kept as prisoners. Driving a hard bargain, OTOH, is quite acceptable. It is a question of what you value more, the life of prisoners-of-undeclared-war, or the prisoners you hold as possible exchange material. One way to avoid trading prisoners would be for us to kill all prisoners we have immediately on capture That would be one way to honestly demonstrate that we will never trade for prisoners the other side holds. The Republicans might call that the moral high ground.

  • tuibguy

    No, they didn’t criticize Bush because back then to criticize the Wartime President was treason, and could get you kicked off of television or even worse Country Music Radio playlists.