Since the controversial release of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban captivity took place on May 31, 2014, reports of public scrutiny continue to grow. Much of the controversy relates to the release of five Taliban commanders that some have compared to the stature of 4-star generals in exchange for one American soldier who American and foreign officials claim is a deserter. Dossiers of the five fighters have them classified as highly dangerous and likely to re-engage against U.S. forces. One of the issues of the prisoner exchange, that is being argued by members of Congress, is that President Obama did not follow the law which requires him to notify Congress at least 30 days prior to the release of any Guantanamo detainee.
Details of how Bergdahl was captured on June 30, 2009 in Afghanistan are still officially unclear. Senators from both political parties are on record stating they are not convinced, from his appearance in a short video that was filmed in December 2013, that Sgt. Bergdahl’s life was in imminent danger. They also argued that the release of the Taliban captives in exchange for the soldier has placed American lives in jeopardy.
Controversy over Bergdahl’s release has spread to his hometown of Hailey, Idaho and prompted officials there to cancel the “Welcome Home Bowe” rally amid growing public safety concerns. The town has received more than 160 emails, mostly from U.S. service members, in addition to many telephone calls from angry people threatening to boycott the town. One such call was reported to have come from a truck driver who threatened to dump his trash there.
As the situation continues to percolate, Washington, D.C. insiders are bracing for the prisoner exchange to become political. According to The Washington Post, the White House is considering releasing to the public the December 2013 “proof of life” video of Bergdahl that was filmed by his Taliban captors. Many in Congress who viewed the video found it unconvincing in terms of the urgency to carry out the exchange based on the condition of the soldier’s health. They consider it unjustified for the President to proceed with his decision regarding the exchange without giving Congress the required notification. White House aides, however, claim they are not worried about lengthy hearings or what anti-Obama angles FOX News might spin. They also believe that the “leave no man or woman in uniform behind” policy will trump any argument made against the President’s decision.
According to the Associated Press, three congressional officials reported that the President’s justification for not following the law with the obligatory notification of Congress was the result of credible intelligence. If word of the prisoner exchange got out during the month prior to the deal, Bergdahl was to be killed. Senate Intelligence Committee chairperson, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), was concerned that the Administration’s fear of potential leaks was the excuse to keep Congress in the dark about the release of Guantanamo detainees. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), himself a former Vietnam prisoner of war, argued against the merits of the Associated Press report claiming that an enemy in possession of a high value prisoner has every reason to keep him alive.
The growing national interest in the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is prompting criticism and controversy on political, legal and humanitarian fronts. Pfc. Matthew Martinek, age 20 from Bartlett, IL was killed when his unit was struck by an improvised explosive device, gunfire, and a rocket propelled grenade while on a search mission for Bergdahl. The Army conducted an investigation into the disappearance in 2009 and concluded that he voluntarily left his post. Now that Bergdahl is free, Martinek’s mother, Cheryl Brandes and stepfather, Kenneth Luccioni, are calling for a complete investigation into Bergdahl’s disappearance as well as a thorough accounting of the deal that was made to free him. It is reported that seven other service members were killed during similar search missions.
By Mark Politi