WASHINGTON – The May 31 announcement of the liberation of Army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl who had been held by the Taliban since 2009 –that is 5 long years– was supposed to be an unadulterated “feel good” story. President Obama made the announcement at the White House, having invited there Bergdahl’s parents. Perfect photo-op and headline: “President Obama personally delivers great news to anguished parents”.
Bergdahl’s liberation looked like a heart-warming, “end of the ordeal” story –a happy ending story that fits well within the more or less accepted narrative of the longest American war now mercifully coming to a close.
Indeed, Bergdahl was the only US soldier held by the Taliban. As we are closing down the Afghanistan conflict, it seems appropriate that America negotiated at this time a prisoners exchange deal with the Taliban, (5 Taliban combatants held at Guantanamo freed, in return for 1 US prisoner), so that Bergdahl could be free.
So, happy ending? Well, not quite. Believe it or not, many Republicans (and some Democrats) in Congress do not like this deal at all.
What about the law?
First of all there is an issue of proper procedure. In open violation of the law, Obama failed to give the prescribed 30 day notice to Congress before finalizing the deal involving the liberation of the 5 Taliban senior members held at Guantanamo.
Negotiating with terrorists?
Then, beyond this (not insignificant) abuse of power issue, others question the policy rationale supporting this action. Is America now negotiating with terrorists? Our we legitimizing the Taliban by dealing with them as equals? With this precedent, are we now encouraging more kidnappings of Americans, so that they can be swapped later on for other terrorists held in America?
This is not a regular POW
But wait, there is more. And it gets worse. Indeed, it would appear that sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is not at all the American hero caught in battle by the enemy –a hero who bravely endured the hardships of captivity for 5 long years. This is no John McCain taken prisoner and then tortured by the North Vietnamese, after his plane was shot down during a bombing raid, finally coming home.
According to many (although unofficial) reports, prior to his capture by the Taliban, Bergdahl had expressed to his Army comrades and in some writings his disillusionment about America, the war, its purpose, and more. A few soldiers who served with him in Afghanistan had nothing nice to say about him during lengthy TV interviews. And it is established that he was captured by the Taliban after having left his camp without any authorization. Although we do not know his motives, all this looks bad. Very bad.
Indeed, if these allegations are credible, there may be enough here to charge sergeant Bowe Bergdahl with desertion in a time of war, a crime that may deserve the death penalty according to Art. 85 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
No longer a good story
You see what a mess this story has become? This is no longer about “bringing our POWs home”. This is about liberating 5 dangerous Taliban leaders in exchange for a man of questionable patriotism who may possibly be a deserter, a soldier who was taken prisoner by the Taliban because of his unjustifiable actions, (leaving his base without any authorization).
Did Obama consider all this?
Now, one would hope that President Obama knew about all these angles before he authorized this swap. However, if he considered how controversial this deal could become, why on earth would the President put his personal signature on this prisoners’ exchange by inviting Bergdahl’s parents to the White House, this way guaranteeing that Bergdahl’s liberation would become front page news, with Obama’s name for ever attached to it?
May be the President knows a lot more about this story than we have been told. May be there is nothing to the allegations that Bergdahl is in fact a deserter. May be he is in truth just an unlucky POW who suffered 5 years in captivity and who has been rescued thanks to the relentless efforts led by Obama, the Commander-in-Chief.
And may be the President has good reasons to believe that most Americans are inclined to agree with him that liberating 5 Guantanamo prisoners in order to get the freedom of 1 American soldier is a good deal.
This may turn out badly
Quite frankly, I hope the President made a good decision based on a careful assessment of all the facts. I really hope he acted wisely. Because if it is not so, if it turns out that Bergdahl is a deserter, or may be just an unhinged, mentally disturbed person who caused a lot of troubles because of his reckless behavior, Obama is not going to look good. In fact, he is going to look incompetent, or worse.