Did the U.S. Trade 5 Taliban Terrorists for an Army Deserter?
Policy + Politics

Did the U.S. Trade 5 Taliban Terrorists for an Army Deserter?

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only American prisoner of war held by the Taliban, should be a reason for the nation to celebrate. But there are growing questions about why Bergdahl abandoned his post before he was captured.

Logic would dictate that most soldiers would find the release of one of their own a good thing. However, many of those soldiers who fought with Bergdahl said his actions on the battlefield were hardly heroic.

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Writing for The Daily Beast, Nathan Bradley Bethea, a soldier who fought with Bergdahl, said Bergdahl grew disillusioned with the war and voluntarily left his post in June 2009.

“The truth is: Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down,” he said, referring to six Americans who lost their lives looking for the former POW.

“I was pissed off then and I am even more so now with everything going on," added Former Sgt. Matt Vierkant, a member of Bergdahl's platoon, in an interview on CNN. "Bowe Bergdahl deserted during a time of war and his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him."

His former squad leader, Greg Leatherman, also told CNN, “I believe that an investigation should take place as soon as healthcare professionals deem him fit to endure one."

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On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are upset that they were not consulted about the prisoner swap deal that brought Bergdahl home. More importantly, the administration may have broken the law by not doing so, according to Jeffrey Toobin, legal analyst for both CNN and The New Yorker.  

Intel chairman Rep. Mike Rogers said that the deal, which required the United States to give up five high profile Taliban detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison in exchange for Bergdahl, amounted to negotiating with terrorists.

“If you negotiate here, you’ve sent a message to every Al Qaeda group in the world — by the way, some who are holding U.S. hostages today — that there is some value now in that hostage in a way that they didn’t have before," Rogers said Sunday.

“Trading five senior Taliban leaders from detention in Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl’s release may have consequences for the rest of our forces and all Americans. Our terrorist adversaries now have a strong incentive to capture Americans. That incentive will put our forces in Afghanistan and around the world at even greater risk,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. McKeon (R-Calif.) and the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, James M. Inhofe (Okla.), added in a joint statement.

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Others are upset that the White House did not tell lawmakers about the deal until after the prisoners were transferred out of Cuba. By law, the defense secretary must tell Congress that prisoners were being transferred out of prison 30 days before the transfer occurs. DOD must also explain why the prisoners are being transferred and provide assurances that those being released would not fight against the United States.

In this instance, none of that happened. So far, defense officials have dodged questions about Bergdahl’s actions.

“Certainly, anybody who has been held in those conditions in captivity for five years has paid an extraordinary price, but that is really not the point," National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on ABC Sunday. "The point is he's back. He's going to be safely reunited with his family. He served the United States with honor and distinction."

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