Bergdahl story must be told
US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was, until this week, the sole U.S. military member held captive by our enemy, the Taliban, in the Afghanistan war. Now Bergdahl has been released in a prisoner exchange with the Taliban and will soon be reunited with his family in America.
Bergdahl gained his release after the Department of Defense coordinated with the White House and opened a decision window to trade five top Taliban officials held at Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl. The Pentagon had concerns about Bergdahl’s health and indicated to the White House that the trade should be seen as urgent if it could be accomplished.
As commander in chief President Obama holds final responsibility for this kind of decision, the exchange of prisoners. Article II of the U.S. Constitution charges the U.S. president to protect the lives of Americans abroad and to protect our military personnel.
Further, by custom, the U.S. military does not leave its soldiers behind after war, as Sen. John McCain can appreciate from his own release as part of a prisoner trade in the Vietnamese war. Likewise, President Reagan negotiated with our enemies the release of 52 Americans in the 1970s hostage crisis. In truth, we would negotiate with the devil for the return of Americans held in war.
There is virtually no disagreement that the return of Bergdahl is proper and a core military custom. No American would suggest that Bergdahl should have been left behind as the U.S. ends its war in Afghanistan.
So that might have been the end of the Bergdahl return were it not for some predictable, and some unpredictable, events since the announcement of Bergdahl’s return.
The president made a troubling miscalculation in holding a Rose Garden announcement of Bergdahl’s release with Bergdahl’s mother and father in attendance.
Troubling because questions remain about just how Bergdahl fell into captivity of the Taliban. There have been suggestions that Bergdahl walked off his post as a deserter. There is not yet clear evidence in this regard, but the concern alone should have caused the White House to make a much softer announcement of Bergdahl’s release.
The Department of Defense has announced its intentions to conduct an investigation of the circumstances of Bergdahl’s captivity and until then there are no conclusions to be drawn.
A second judgment mistake was National Security Adviser Susan Rice stating Bergdahl has served with “honor and distinction” when that is clearly yet to be determined.
A third mistake was the president not at least attempting to keep Congress informed about the rapid pace of the prisoner exchange discussions. While Congress knew the administration would work for Bergdahl’s release the law requires a 30-day notice to Congress before prisoner exchanges take place.
President Obama has issued a Signing Statement with the passage of the law that exigent circumstances might require him to act without congressional notification should his responsibility as commander in chief require quick action.
The predictable portion of the Bergdahl affair was the Republican political response, perhaps best characterized by Republican Sen. John McCain. On Feb. 18, McCain, appearing on CNN stated that he could support the release of Bergdahl in exchange for “five really hardcore Taliban leaders” held at Gitmo.
When McCain’s wish became fact McCain quickly condemned the president for making a bad trade.
So went the entire Republican Party, traveling very near the edge of suggesting they would have just left Bergdahl behind in Afghanistan.
They would not have done so. They would have instead condemned the president had he done so because, at the end of the day, patriots are in short supply this week.
Welcome home Bergdahl, may your recovery be swift and complete and may your story be told in truth.
Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.