White House: Taliban an 'Armed Insurgency,' So We Didn't 'Make Concessions to Terrorist Groups'
Pressed by reporters about why the Jordanians can't trade a would-be suicide bomber to ISIS for the return of a downed pilot, the White House said today that deal-making with the Taliban to win Bowe Bergdahl's release was different.
"The Taliban is an armed insurgency. ISIL is a terrorist group. So we don't make concessions to terrorist groups," spokesman Eric Schultz said today.
Jordan said a short time ago that there is no deal in place yet for the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi awaiting the death penalty for her role in the grisly 2005 bombing of a wedding reception at the Radisson in Amman. Her husband killed himself, but her suicide belt failed to properly detonate and she was captured.
ISIS had requested al-Rishawi be freed in exchange for Japanese war reporter Kenji Goto. Jordan wants any such deal tied to the release of air force pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh as well, but they haven't received any proof of life that the pilot is OK.
"Our policy is that we don't pay ransom. We don't give concessions to other -- to terrorist organizations," Schultz said at today's briefing. "But in terms of details on the negotiations between the Jordanians and the Japanese, I'm gonna refer you to their governments."
"I can tell you that this is a longstanding policy that predates this administration. And it's also one that we've communicated to our friends and allies across the world."
Schultz was asked how Jordan's swap would be different from the U.S. release of five Taliban commanders for Bergdahl's freedom.
"As you know, this was highly discussed at the time, and prisoner swaps are a traditional end of conflict interaction that happens," the spokesman said. "As the war in Afghanistan wound down, we felt like it was the appropriate thing to do. The president's bedrock commitment as commander in chief is to leave no man or woman behind. That's the principle he was operating under."
Then, he said the Taliban -- hosts of al-Qaeda camps, suicide bombers, throwers of acid on schoolgirls -- didn't qualify as terrorists.
"The Taliban is an armed insurgency. This was the winding down of the war in Afghanistan. And that's why this arrangement was dealt," Schultz continued. "Our view is, as the president said at the time, which is, as the commander in chief, when he sends men and women into armed combat, he doesn't want to leave anyone behind. That was the commitment he was following through on this."
State Department press secretary Jen Psaki was posed similar questions at today's briefing.
"We're not going to discuss the details of our diplomatic exchanges with Jordan, with Japan, with any other country involved. Our position is well know. The United States government policy in terms of how we operate is, we don't make concessions to terrorists. That is our policy. I don't think there's any secret about that to other countries around the world," Psaki said.
"...Every country has the ability and the right to make decisions about -- obviously, within the realm of what is acceptable by international law. We have our own positions, our own views, that are well-known, and there's reasons behind them."
Does the administration believe the Bergdahl swap fell within those parameters? "We do, yes."
"We have our own positions, as many other countries do, on things like ransoms and swaps for a reason," Psaki said.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Dem on the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN today that it's "very difficult" to distinguish a Jordan swap from the Bergdahl swap.
"They're in a difficult spot. And as you point out, we did trade Bowe Bergdahl for this Taliban, in something that I'm not sure was a very good exercise and a very good precedent for the United States to set," Schiff said.
"But in any event, Jordan is a key ally. We'll support them with whatever they decide they have to do. This is the scourge of dealing with a terrorist organization that is willing to behead people if it doesn't get what it wants. There are no laws of war. There are no rules of war. There's nothing but brutality, and murder and death when it comes to ISIL. It ought to reinforce why this terrorist group has to be stopped."