The release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl by the Taliban, in exchange for five Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo Bay, raises a number of issues that should be addressed separately.
First, it is a good thing that an American soldier who has been held by enemy forces for nearly five years is free. Regardless of the circumstances of his capture, our nation must always work diligently and faithfully to secure the return of an imprisoned soldier.
But while being happy for his safe return, two other major questions need answering. Did the Obama administration act prudently and wisely in striking the deal for Bergdahl’s release? And how should Bergdahl be treated now that he’s home?
On the first question, the administration certainly has yet to make the case that the release of five Taliban prisoners — among the most hardened of the Guantanamo inmates — in exchange for Bergdahl was in the nation’s best interests.
News reports indicate that the Taliban provided a video of Bergdahl earlier this year that showed him in poor health. It is understandable that the nation’s commander in chief and his national security team would be concerned about a captured American soldier possibly dying in Taliban custody.
But it’s difficult to understand how releasing the five Taliban detainees enhances our national security, which is the commander in chief’s ultimate responsibility.
Many congressional leaders, from both parties, expressed anger that the Obama administration executed the deal without complying with a law that required that Congress be given 30 days’ notice of the transfer of any Guantanamo detainees.
Under the Constitution, the president’s broad powers as commander-in-chief likely allow him wide latitude to free prisoners of war (even if they lack such official status) and strike deals to free captured American soldiers. Still, the president and his national security team could have laid a better groundwork with congressional leadership.
As for Bergdahl’s fate, there has been a rush to condemn him as a deserter. But he deserves the same presumption of innocence due all Americans.
If it is shown that Bergdahl was guilty of being absent without leave or, more seriously, desertion, then he should face appropriate military punishment.
Five years of Taliban captivity has already been harsh punishment. It’s hard to imagine any benefit from further imprisonment.
But if he was guilty of being AWOL or deserting, he should at a minimum face discharge under less than honorable circumstances.
The American people deserve a full accounting of the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture. And the Obama administration owes us a complete explanation of the deal for his release.
— El Paso Times