Americans should be asking serious questions about the recent swap of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five members of the Taliban, despite assurances from the Obama administration that the deal was legal and does not pose a threat to national security.
Bergdahl’s health as a prisoner of war for almost five years is a serious concern. Yet as a member of the United States armed forces, he knew the risks he was taking while serving in hostile territory.
He went from being a small-town kid to being a trained soldier, who had been taught how to deal with the circumstances in which found himself.
By contrast, the men for whom he was exchanged are career terrorists.
Bergdahl was stationed in a remote outpost, about 50 miles west of the Pakistani border. It was nowhere for the faint of heart, but going into harm’s way is what American soldiers do when assigned a mission.
“As they settled into their wartime routines in the spring of 2009, the soldiers of the Second Platoon knew that they controlled little more than what they could survey from their outposts,” several members of the platoon told the New York Times.
“To pass the time on long trips outside the wire, some in the platoon would make wagers on when a roadside bomb attack might come.”
Bergdahl disappeared from his outpost on June 30, 2009, and it may have been the second time he “wandered off,” according to the Times. One theory was that he could have left the small base through the rear section that was not covered with razor wire, “walking past Afghan police officers he had befriended.”
The five men for whom he was exchanged are accused of massacres that left thousands dead in Afghanistan and the Middle East, according to the National Post.
Under terms of the agreement, the men are banned from traveling outside of Qatar for one year. but will be allowed to move freely within that nation.
The five are “the worst of the worst,” according to Michael Kugelman of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Each spent more than a decade inside the Guantanamo Bay prison. Their presence in the notorious facility, meant to control the activities of terrorists in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, should be proof positive that they were not average enemies of the state.
Their peaceful relocation to Qatar is a form of diplomatic immunity, but can these men be trusted?
President Barack Obama acknowledged that the five Taliban detainees could return to fight against the United States but said he would not have agreed to the deal if he thought it would hurt national security.
“We will be keeping eyes on them,” he said.
Those words are hardly comforting to the members of the American armed forces still on duty in the Middle East and beyond, nor their anxious families.
We simply gave up too much in order to secure the return of one man who fell into enemy hands because he mysteriously wandered away from his comrades.
In the year that followed Bergdahl’s disappearance, some deaths of members of the 1st Battalion, 501st Regiment, are alleged to have occurred because troops were searching for him in the rugged mountainous terrain.
What a terrible price to pay for a man confused about his role in the military.
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and former Vietnam prisoner of war, said the five Taliban prisoners were judged as too great a risk to release. “I’m afraid they’re going to re-enter the fight,” he said, of the consequences of the trade.
Skepticism was not confined to the GOP. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, questioned Secretary of State John Kerry’s assertion that the five Taliban members would be carefully monitored.
“It’s hard to be comfortable when you really haven’t been briefed on the intricacies of carrying out this agreement,” Feinstein said on “Face the Nation.”
Obama is confident that acting without an updated advisory to Congress was justified. A statement from the White House said the president’s power under the Constitution trumps a law requiring that Congress get 30 days’ notice.
Only time will tell.
David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.