Bowe Bergdahl exchange

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The Obama administration exchanged five Guantanamo Bay prisoners for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl on May 31, 2014. Bergdahl was captured by Taliban forces in Afghanistan in 2009 and held captive just across the border in Pakistan.[1] Bergdahl was accused of deserting his unit before being captured, leading to more controversy over whether or not the administration should have made a deal with the Taliban. On March 25, 2015, Bergdahl was formally charged with desertion by the U.S. Army. "Bergdahl also faces an Army charge of misbehavior before an enemy, a far more serious accusation," according to Foreign Policy.[2]

Possible ramifications

Critics, including Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, claimed President Obama's decision to trade five prisoners for Bergdahl showed American weakness by setting the precedent that the United States would make deals with terrorists. House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and other Republicans went further and insisted Obama violated the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act by not giving Congress at least 30 days notice before engaging in talks to get Bergdahl back.[3]

Timeline of events

Disappearance

According to reports from members of Bergdahl's platoon, he left the observation post they were stationed at on June 30, 2009.[4][5] One member of the platoon said of his departure, "He walked off. He left his guard post. Nobody knows if he defected or he's a traitor or he was kidnapped. What I do know is, he was there to protect us, and instead he decided to defer from America and go and do his own thing."[5] According to a Rolling Stone report, Bergdahl did not fit in with the platoon. In the last email he wrote to his parents, Bergdahl explained, "The future is too good to waste on lies. And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be american. The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting."[6]

Search attempts

Bergdahl was stationed in the Paktika Province in Afghanistan.
Search attempts began hours after Bergdahl's disappearance, with Predator drones, dogs, soldiers and fighter jets all searching for Bergdahl. Just over 24 hours later, Army intelligence intercepted a discussion between Taliban members discussing an American soldier they had taken prisoner. The Taliban offered a trade deal through local elders, but the commanding officer was either unable or unwilling to make the trade of 15 prisoners and an undisclosed amount of money.[6]

According to soldiers stationed in the area, their mission changed once Bergdahl went missing. One stated, "The fact of the matter is, when those soldiers were killed, they would not have been where they were at if Bergdahl had not have left. Bergdahl leaving changed the mission." Six soldiers charged with the recovery of Bergdahl were killed between August 18 and September 6, 2009. Not every mission revolved around Bergdahl, but multiple soldiers claimed "personnel recovery" became a common element during missions. A local election also took place August 20, 2009, which soldiers monitored and protected. Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stated he wasn't aware of "circumstances or details of U.S. soldiers dying as a result of efforts to find and rescue Sgt. Bergdahl." A spokesperson for the department also commented on Bergdahl's responsibility for the six deaths, stating, "right now there is no evidence to back that up."[7]

POW treatment

Bowe Bergdahl
Five videos were released by the Taliban featuring Bergdahl reading pre-written lines criticizing American foreign policy. The first video was released on July 19, 2009, in which he claimed to have been captured when he fell behind his platoon. He appeared to be unharmed.[8] Another video was released on Christmas Day in 2009. Bergdahl was wearing his Army uniform and again appeared to be unharmed.[9] On April 7, 2010, a video featuring Bergdahl pleading for his release was posted online. Similar videos were released in May 2011 and January 2014 as proof of life.[10] His health in the January 2014 video appeared to be deteriorating, which led to the Obama administration's increased focus on getting him released.[4][11]

His parents received a letter they believed he had written in June 2013. The letter was delivered to them by the International Committee of the Red Cross.[12]

Bergdahl's health upon release was better than expected, based on the last video released, but he still suffered from skin and gum disorders common among those held in captivity. He was treated at a hospital in Germany for mental and physical wellness while being held from his family and the media while doctors attempted to evaluate him. Bergdahl also said the Taliban kept him in a solitary metal cage or box for weeks at a time after two failed escape attempts.[11]

Negotiations

Negotiations were first made public in May 2012, but the Associated Press learned about the negotiations in 2010 and agreed not to publish the terms, in order to keep public backlash out of them. In May 2012, Bergdahl's parents announced that the Obama administration was negotiating with the Taliban to release Bowe in exchange for five prisoners being held in Guantanamo Bay. After the January 2014 video release, Bergdahl's family said they were optimistic about the renewed chance of Bowe's release. He was exchanged by the Taliban on May 31, 2014, for the release of five Guantanamo Bay prisoners.[13]

Rose Garden ceremony

On May 31, 2014, President Obama invited Bob and Jani Bergdahl, Bowe's parents, to the White House Rose Garden to announce that Bowe would be reunited with his family. Obama said, "Sergeant Bergdahl has missed birthdays and holidays and the simple moments with family and friends, which all of us take for granted. But while Bowe was gone he was never forgotten. His parents thought about him and prayed for him every single day, as did his sister, Sky, who prayed for his safe return. He wasn’t forgotten by his community in Idaho, or the military, which rallied to support the Bergdahls through thick and thin. And he wasn’t forgotten by his country, because the United States of America does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind. As Commander-in-Chief, I am proud of the servicemembers who recovered Sergeant Bergdahl and brought him safely out of harm’s way. As usual, they performed with extraordinary courage and professionalism, and they have made their nation proud." Obama also thanked the governments of Qatar and Afghanistan and reaffirmed his commitment wind "down the war in Afghanistan" and to close Gitmo.[14]

National Defense Authorization Act

Republican members of Congress claimed President Obama broke the law under the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act in making a deal to bring Bergdahl back to the U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) explained, "The law says they are to give us 30 days' notice. If the President thought that was unconstitutional or an invalid law, than he shouldn't have signed the bill." President Obama responded to the claims, stating, "We have consulted with Congress for quite some time about the possibility we may have to execute a prisoner exchange. We saw an opportunity and we were concerned about his health and had cooperation from the Qataris and we seized that. It was truncated to make sure we didn't miss that opportunity." While the president was required to notify Congress of the exchange, members of Congress maintained no official way to put a stop the exchange. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) argued that since Obama notified Congress that he would act quickly if the opportunity to bring Bergdahl back to the U.S. emerged "members of Congress should not be surprised that he acted as he did in the circumstances that existed."[15]

Post-exchange debate

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney claimed the exchange was rushed due to Bergdahl's "deteriorating" health. Hagel also defended the exchange and hoped it would create "a new opening" in future talks with the Taliban.[3] When asked the reasoning behind the negotiations on June 3, 2014, President Obama explained, "Regardless of the circumstances, whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity. Period. Full stop. We don’t condition that." He also stated that the administration had been consulting with Congress prior to the swap, a statement House Intelligence committee chair Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) disputed. Rogers said, "In 2011, they did come up and present a plan that included a prisoner transfer that was, in a bipartisan way, pushed back. We hadn't heard anything since on any details of any prisoner exchange." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reported that he was told of the exchange but only "the day before or the day of."[16]

Disappearance investigation

The U.S. Army announced on June 16, 2014, that an investigation was underway dealing with the disappearance of Bergdahl from his post in Afghanistan. Major General Kenneth R. Dahl was chosen to head the investigation with a completion date of August 16, 2014.[17][18] Bergdahl hired Eugene R. Fidell to represent him during the Army's investigation. Fidell worked on high profile cases dealing with Guantanamo Bay, sexual assault in the military and Private Chelsea Manning's release of classified documents. Prior to being hired as Bergdahl's legal representation, Fidell stated on NBC that Bergdahl could be looking at as much as five years in prison.[19]

Return to duty

After completing the "reintegration process" following his release from captivity, Bergdahl returned to active duty status on July 14, 2014, at the Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, where he was hired to work a "desk job."[18]

Formal charges

On March 25, 2015, Bergdahl was formally charged with desertion by the U.S. Army. "Bergdahl also faces an Army charge of misbehavior before an enemy, a far more serious accusation," according to Foreign Policy.[2]

Congressional response

House resolution condemning the president

A resolution condemning the president's lack of congressional notification in the Bergdahl exchange passed the House on September 9, 2014, by a vote of 249-163. Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.), sponsor of the resolution, insisted it was to ensure the checks and balances of the Constitution, with the wording of the resolution reading, "these actions have burdened unnecessarily the trust and confidence in the commitment and ability of the Obama administration to constructively engage and work with Congress."[20]

Of the votes in favor of its passage, the following 22 Democratic representatives cast passing votes, while all other Democrats voted in opposition.[20]

The Taliban Five

On September 9, 2014, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) defended the exchange by claiming the five released Taliban prisoners were too old to return to fighting, with each being in their mid-40s. He said, "Yes, indeed, they were former members of organizations that would do us harm, but they're not likely to return to the battlefield at their age. If so, then old people like me need to be in the war and we probably wouldn't have so many in the first place." He acknowledged that they could still be of use in formulating strategy, suggesting, "Are their minds going to be utilized? That may very well be the case. But I don't think all five of them put together were worth as much as one American soldier, Bowe Bergdahl."[21]

Rep. and Iraq War veteran Doug Collins (R-Ga.) disagreed that the five would not pose a threat to the United States. He said, "If changing or breaking that law isn't enough, the president released five of the most dangerous detainees at Guantánamo Bay. These Taliban leaders orchestrated plans to engage in hostilities against Americans and in association with al Qaeda. By his own admission, there is absolutely the possibility that these detainees would return to the fight."[21]

Recent news

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See also

References

  1. CBS News, "Bowe Bergdahl, a Taliban captive since 2009, has been freed," May 31, 2014
  2. 2.0 2.1 Foreign Policy, "Army Is Charging Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl With Desertion," accessed March 26, 2015
  3. 3.0 3.1 Politico, "Criticism of Bergdahl deal mounts," June 6, 2014
  4. 4.0 4.1 The Washington Post, "Bowe Bergdahl timeline in Afghanistan: From capture to release," accessed July 23, 2014
  5. 5.0 5.1 CNN, "Fellow soldiers call Bowe Bergdahl a deserter, not a hero," June 4, 2014
  6. 6.0 6.1 Rolling Stone, "America's Last Prisoner of War," June 7, 2012
  7. CNN, "How did 6 die after Bowe Bergdahl's disappearance?," June 9, 2014
  8. Huffington Post, "Bowe Bergdahl: Soldier Captured In Afghanistan Identified As 23-Year-Old Idahoan," July 20, 2009
  9. BBC, "Taliban video shows captive US soldier Bowe Bergdahl," December 25, 2009
  10. Fox News, "A timeline of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's 2009 capture in Afghanistan to 2014 release," June 6, 2014
  11. 11.0 11.1 New York Times, "As Bowe Bergdahl Heals, Details Emerge of His Captivity," June 7, 2014
  12. CBS News, "POW Bowe Bergdahl's parents receive letter from captive son," accessed July 23, 2014
  13. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named foxtimeline
  14. WhiteHouse.gov, "Statement by the President on the Release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl," accessed March 26, 2015
  15. CNN, "Was Bergdahl swap legal? Depends on who you ask," June 3, 2014
  16. Politico, "President Obama defends Bowe Bergdahl deal," June 3, 2014
  17. NBC News, "Army Opens Investigation Into Bowe Bergdahl's Departure From Base," June 16, 2014
  18. 18.0 18.1 Wall Street Journal, "Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl Returns to Regular Duty," July 14, 2014
  19. NBC News, "Defending Bergdahl: Can Eugene Fidell Clear Freed Soldier's Name?," July 17, 2014
  20. 20.0 20.1 The Hill, "House votes to condemn administration over Taliban prisoner swap," September 9, 2014
  21. 21.0 21.1 The Hill, "House Democrat: 'Taliban 5' won't return to the battlefield," September 9, 2014