Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl spent five years as a Taliban prisoner in Afghanistan. During that time, billboards across the US proclaimed "he fought for us, let's fight for him."
But now that Bergdahl has been released - in exchange for five high-ranking Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay prison - at least one member of his battalion is calling him a deserter and blaming him for the deaths of soldiers killed while trying to rescue him.
In an article for the Daily Beast, a former Army officer involved in the rescue operation alleges that Bergdahl walked away from his post voluntarily:
Every member of my brigade combat team received an order that we were not allowed to discuss what happened to Bergdahl for fear of endangering him. He is safe, and now it is time to speak the truth... Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down.Regardless of whether Bergdahl deserted, most observers believe it is unlikely that he will face charges for desertion. Bergdahl is officially in good standing with the US Army and was promoted twice in absentia. Business Insider explains:
The fact that soldiers were killed in attempts to free him... is irrelevant to the evidentiary and procedural questions that go into a criminal prosecution. Unless debriefers determine that there's far more to Bergdahl's story than has been reported publicly, the only U.S. prisoner of war in the Afghan theater likely won't be facing criminal charges when he returns home.
While some are criticizing Bergdahl, others are directing their disapproval at President Obama, who they say set a dangerous precedent and paid too high a cost by releasing five "high risk" prisoners in exchange for one soldier.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), himself a prisoner of war during Vietnam, has expressed unease about freeing what he refers to as "the hardest of the hard-core" terrorists held at Guantanamo.
And Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) believes the "very disturbing" deal creates a slippery slope:
What does this tell the terrorists? That if you capture a U.S. soldier, you can trade that soldier for five terrorists.
But even some observers critical of the exchange acknowledge there's nothing unprecedented about the US negotiating with terrorists:
Before Obama we have negotiated with terrorists on numerous occasions... How else did we secure the release of the 52 Americans held for 444 days by the Iranians starting in 1979, other than by negotiating ransom with hostage-takers?... exchanging Bergdahl for 5 seasoned jihadists is a shortsighted, dangerous deal, but it isn't unprecedented.
But with so much uncertainty hanging over the return of Sgt. Bergdahl and the events that led to his capture, both sides of the aisle are vying for political footing. The White House will surely look to turn the rescue into a PR victory for Democrats, while the Republicans try to portray it as a security issue, leading at least one commenter to call it "the right's new Benghazi."From the Daily Beast:
The argument will be made that he wasn't worth saving, especially given what we had to give up... [but] I think to most Americans, this is a feel-good story. We value a life, one American life. Bibi Netanyahu traded one captive Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit...for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. And there was broad agreement across the spectrum of Israeli politics that bringing Shalit to safety, even at that price, was the right thing to do.
But the partisan fault lines are already forming now that Bergdahl's release has been secured, and it's unlikely that we'll see that sort of broad agreement in the US.
Via The Daily Beast