On Saturday Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was released by the Taliban as part of a deal that saw five detainees from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility released in exchange. Bergdahl was captured by Taliban fighters in 2009 under disputed circumstances – he claims he fell behind on a patrol, the Taliban claimed he was drunk, and others in his unit claim he was a deserter.
Regardless of how Bergdahl was captured, the decision by the Obama Administration to exchange Bergdahl for five senior Taliban commanders was not well received by Republicans in Congress who claimed the Obama Administration “negotiated with terrorists” and did not consult Congress before releasing prisoners from Gitmo.
Administration officials hit back hard against the insinuation that Obama negotiated with terrorists and broke the law requiring him to notify Congress 30 days before the release or transfer of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice in separate Sunday show interviews said that Obama acted within his constitutional authority as commander in chief, forced to act against non-state actors as Bergdahl’s health was deteriorating.
The focus of the controversy has drifted in some circles to Bergdahl himself and whether or not he was a deserter as some in his unit have claimed. Namely that he became disillusioned with the US war in Afghanistan and “walked off” base. There is evidence that Bergdahl was disgusted with the war though not any as of yet that he was a “deserter.”
Bergdahl has been sent to Germany to be treated for unspecified medical problems where he will also be debriefed by Pentagon officials. Defense Secretary Hagel noted one of the reasons the prisoner swap was completed at this time were concerns about Bergdahl’s health.
The prisoner swap for Bowe Bergdahl may serve as a marker for the end of major US operations in Afghanistan and a beginning of accepting Taliban influence. It also, coincidentally, knocked the VA scandal off the front page – a scandal that forced Retired General Eric Shinseki to resign as head of the VA on Friday.