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On May 31, 2014, imprisoned U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was freed in exchange for five Taliban detainees who were being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The exchange took place in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. He was turned over to American Special Operations forces and flown to a military hospital in Germany. Defense Department officials described his physical condition as good. Given the long length of his captivity, questions have arisen as to why he was released now.
On June 30, 2009, Bergdahl went missing from his platoon and was eventually captured by Taliban forces. Circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s disappearance and his subsequent capture are unclear. One former platoon member, Sgt. Matt Vierkant, claims that Bergdahl deserted and that other American soldiers who searched for him lost their lives in the process. White House and Pentagon officials who were asked to clarify these circumstances were unable to provide specifics. On the condition of anonymity, another Defense Department official told CNN that any punishment will not likely be in Bergdahl’s future.
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was the lone American service member held captive in the Afghan conflict and the Obama Administration has been attempting to gain his release “for years.” The existence of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay required special laws to be enacted regarding the legalities of combating terrorism. However, Republican Congressional leaders are calling for hearings and demanding answers, saying the president violated the law by not informing Congress at least 30 days prior to any transfer of any detainee from Guantanamo Bay. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel acknowledged that he did not notify Congress ahead of time, saying that when President Obama signed the applicable bill that made the transfer restrictions into law, he issued a “signing statement” claiming that executive powers permitted him to override the restrictions. The White House said that Bergdahl’s deteriorating physical condition required a time-sensitive exchange that justified action extending beyond legal parameters.
Some GOP members of Congress suspect that the president is attempting to circumvent the legislative process in an effort to vacate the remaining 149 Guantanamo Bay prisoners in order to shut down the facility. Congressional members are also concerned about the track records of the five Taliban fighters who were released. Mohammad Fazi was wanted as a war criminal by the United Nations for the murder of thousands of Shiites. Mullah Norullah Noori, Momammed Nabi and Abdul Haq Wasiq fought with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and Khairullah Khairkhwa was a direct associate of Osama Bin Laden; all were classified as highly dangerous. Still, at least one GOP member, California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, is questioning the urgency to secure Bergdahl’s release and why the release of three other Americans currently being held by militants were not part of the bargain.
Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, who leads the House Intelligence Committee, stated that the president “negotiated with terrorists who are responsible for the deaths of many Americans.” National Security Advisor Susan Rice refuted this claim on CNN, stating that the United States negotiated through the government of Qatar. Rice also stressed that the released Taliban leaders will have restrictions on their movement and behavior in Qatar for one year in accordance with the terms of their release.
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is being evaluated at an Army hospital in Landstahl, Germany, to determine when he will be ready to be transported to the U.S. Once he is medically cleared, he will be flown to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, after which he will be brought to the San Antonio Military Medical Center. Anwen Consaul, a U.S. Army South official, said that once he is back in the United States, his recovery will encompass medical care, psychological support, debriefings and family support.
In addition to the president’s unilateral decision to move forward with the prisoner exchange without giving the required 30-days’ notice to Congress, the timing of the president’s action has created suspicion among some media outlets regarding why this prisoner exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl had to be done right now. Some are questioning whether the move was a ploy to draw attention away from the current Veteran’s Administration scandal.
By Mark Politi