The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Opinion

June 7, 2014

What about Alan Gross?

The release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban detainees raises the question: What about Alan Gross, the State Department subcontractor who has languished nearly as long in a Cuban jail?

Don’t count me among those who pronounce with certitude on the wisdom — or folly — of the Bergdahl deal. It was an agonizingly hard call, one that requires more knowledge than is publicly available about the dangerousness of the five Taliban officials and America’s ability to keep tabs on them once released.

If pushed, I would come down, tentatively, against the swap. As much as I empathize with Bergdahl’s family and respect the “leave no soldier behind” ethos, I am swayed by the murky circumstances preceding his capture — was he intending to desert? — and the riskiness of the release.

What would the president say to the parents of a soldier killed in the hunt for Bergdahl — or, worse, to civilians murdered in a future terrorist plot masterminded by the detainees previously determined too dangerous to allow to leave Guantanamo? What makes that calculus suddenly safer for the United States?

But having made the Bergdahl deal, the president ought to consider: What is the justification for freeing these Taliban officials in exchange for Bergdahl and summarily rejecting the notion of a much more benign release in order to secure Gross?

To review: Gross is a civilian subcontractor for the State Department’s Agency for International Development who has been held for nearly five years in a Cuban prison. He was convicted and sentenced to 15 years for “acts against the ... territorial integrity of the state” — bringing cellphones, personal computers and networking devices to help connect Cuba’s tiny Jewish community to the Internet as part of a democracy promotion program.

This might have been a naive enterprise by a contractor in over his head (Gross was a fan of Cuban music, about the extent of his expertise) or more sinister than acknowledged (some of the equipment Gross was bringing to Cuba was awfully sophisticated). But it was done under the auspices of the U.S. government, in furtherance of a U.S. law, the 1996 Helms-Burton Act.

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