Taliban and US prisoner swap raises new questions
The White House is characterizing the exchange to bring a U.S. Army POW home as absolutely the right thing to do, but that’s not the universal view. A dissenting chorus is raising serious questions about unlocking the prison doors for five top Taliban leaders.
“I love you Bowe! I’m so very proud of you,” said Jani Bergdahl, mother of freed Army soldier Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
Jani conveyed her pride and love, just as any parent would. Yet, amid the joy and celebration, there are questions about the diplomatic deal that led to his release. The 28-year-old soldier was handed over to U.S. forces on Saturday inside Afghanistan at the Pakistan border – he had been held as a captive by the Taliban for nearly five years. Defense Secretary Chuck Hegel says the exchange of the American for five Taliban officials who were held at the prison in Guantanamo Bay succeeded in saving Bowe Bergdahl’s life.
“We didn’t negotiate with terrorists. Sergeant Bergdahl is a prisoner of war.”
While Bergdahl was sent to a military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany for treatment and evaluation, there arose a scene Sunday in Doha, Qatar as five Taliban detainees were released. They will be living under security restrictions in Qatar and won’t be allowed to travel for a year.
“As always, the United States does not leave a man or a woman, “stated National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
This weekend on CNN, Rice offered assurances that the release of the five Taliban members would not pose a security risk.
“There are restrictions on their movement and behavior; I’m not at liberty to get into detail about the precise nature of those restrictions.”
But some members of Congress – including San Diego representative Duncan Hunter – are expressing concerns about the prisoner swap. In a letter to President Obama, Hunter writes:
“Now, a situation has been created whereby prisoner exchanges – specifically disproportionate exchanges – are viewed by the Taliban and other aligned forces as achievable.”
The Congressman asks why did the White House opt to take this action when there were other ways to obtain the POW’s release. From the same letter:
“I hope you will make every effort to improve operations and ensure more appropriate lines of effort are exhausted before entering into negotiations with such an untrustworthy partner.”
Other members of Congress are asking why the president did not observe the statute that requires the Secretary of Defense to notify Congress at least 30 days before any detainee is transferred out ofGuantanamoo Bay. The Obama administration says the president exercised his executive powers to order the transfer because of the need to act quickly, prompted by reports that the soldier’s health was declining. When asked about the conscious decision to override the rule, Rice answered:
“No. The Department of Defense had council with the Department of Justice, and it is our view that it was appropriate and necessary to do this in order to bring Sergeant Bergdahl back safely.”
In the Sergeant’s hometown of Hailey, Idaho, there is happiness and relief with the news that Bergdahl will at last be coming home.
“I’m so proud of how far you were willing to go to help the Afghan people,” said Bowe’s father Bob Bergdahl.
“I imagine you are more patient and compassionate than ever. You are free. Freedom is yours. I will see you soon, my beloved son, I love you Bowe,” concluded Jani.
As Bowe Bergdahl’s hometown prepares for a big welcome home, others are less enthused. One member of his platoon claims the soldier is no hero and should be tried for desertion. According to some platoon members, Bergdahl simply walked away from his guard post one night, and in subsequent searches for him, at least six soldiers were killed. Monday, a Pentagon spokesperson said “we still don’t have a clear picture of what caused him to leave his post that night.” So far, no date has been set for his release from the hospital in Germany; Bergdahl will be reunited later with his parents in the U.S.