Same with Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. It used to be, when an American prisoner of war came home, we stood together and cheered the good news. No longer. When Sgt. Bergdahl was released by the Taliban after five years of captivity, Republicans immediately tried to turn good news into bad — and blame it all on President Obama. Yes, blame him — some even say impeach him — for tracking down and bringing America’s last prisoner of war in Afghanistan home to freedom.
In their shrill criticism of Bergdahl’s release, Republicans raise five objections: We should never negotiate with terrorists; we should not have traded Bergdahl for five dangerous members of the Taliban; Bergdahl was a deserter, not a POW; as many as eight Americans lost their lives searching for him; and President Obama broke the law by not giving Congress 30 days to react before making the exchange. Five lame objections. Not one of them holds water.
Never negotiate with terrorists? Everybody says that, but everybody does the opposite. Britain made deals with the IRA, Spain with the ETA and Israel with the PLO. The United States has done so since the days of the Revolutionary War. Ronald Reagan negotiated with terrorists. So did George W. Bush. Besides, we’re at war with the Taliban. They held an American soldier prisoner. Even by using Qatar as an intermediary, we had no choice but to negotiate with them.
The five Taliban released are a threat to the United States? Unlikely. According to ThinkProgress.org, “Statistics from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence show that only 6 percent (5 in total) of Guantanamo detainees released during the Obama administration have been assessed to have potentially engaged in militant activities.” Under terms of the exchange, these five will be closely monitored by Qatar and U.S. drones. And, with the war in Afghanistan winding down, they would soon, under international law, have been released from Gitmo, anyway.
Was Sgt. Bergdahl, in fact, a deserter? We don’t know. We do know he wasn’t kidnapped. He walked away, unarmed, from his post. We don’t know why. We haven’t heard his side of the story. But, in the end, it doesn’t really matter. He’s an American soldier. A prisoner of war. And we have a centuries-long tradition, sacred in the military, of not forgetting our men and women lost in battle. For whatever reason. As Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John F. Kirby told reporters: “When you’re in the Navy, and you go overboard, it doesn’t matter if you were pushed, fell or jumped. We’re going to turn the ship around and pick you up.” Then find out what happened. We don’t pick and choose which POW’s we rescue and which ones we don’t.
Did eight American soldiers die searching for Sgt. Bergdahl? This is one of the most serious charges, yet perhaps the most spurious. After reviewing Pentagon records of the war in Afghanistan, The New York Times reported there was ZERO evidence connecting any one of those eight deaths with the intense ground search for Bergdahl, conducted between his disappearance on June 30, 2009 and July 8. Only two fatalities occurred in the region during that time frame, both as a result of a massive assault on another remote outpost. The other six deaths occurred after the search for Bergdahl, in August and September: two in a roadside bombing; one during a search for a Taliban leader and three others while conducting routine patrols.
Finally, did Obama break the law by not giving Congress 30 days notice? This is the craziest complaint of all. The idea that any president, given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rescue an American soldier, should hesitate to act before Congress has 30 days to mull it over is ludicrous. True, Obama signed the law requiring 30-days notice, but he also issued a signing statement asserting flexibility to ignore the requirement when necessary. That’s what a commander-in-chief is for.
Big picture. A few weeks ago, an American soldier had been held captive by the Taliban for five years. Today, that American soldier is a free man, headed home to be reunited with his family. That’s good news. Period. Stop. End of story.
Bill Press is host of a nationally-syndicated radio show.