President Barack H. Obama’s decision to trade Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five senior terrorist detainees previously held at Guantanamo Bay has generated some rather interesting reporting and some rather heated commentary.
The Associated Press reported June 2 that the military had investigated the circumstances of Bergdahl leaving his unit and in 2010 concluded that he had walked away voluntarily. The military initiated intensive searches upon learning of his absence, but decided not to utilize “extraordinary measures to rescue him” according to an unnamed senior defense official.
The trade has sparked a debate over whether the exchange would heighten the risk to other American service members and whether the terrorist detainees would find their way back to the fight.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., described the former Guantanamo detainees as the “hardest of the hard-core.”
One of my favorite writers is retired U.S. Army Col. Ralph Peters. He writes both fiction and non-fiction, as well as opinion columns. He shared his thoughts on the Bergdahl exchange June 3 on National Review Online.
Peters took issue with the characterization National Security Advisor Susan Rice used during her appearances in Sunday TV show interview in which she described Bergdahl as having served with “honor and distinction.” According to Peters, “Those serving in uniform and those of us who served previously were already stirred up, but that jaw-dropper drove us into jihad mode.”
In Peters’ view, the president and Rice seem to view the idea of desertion in time of war as “kind of like skipping class.” They would appear to have “no idea how great a sin desertion in the face of the enemy is to those in our military.”
Peters also questioned the closeness with which Obama chose to associate with Bergdahl’s father at a Rose Garden presentation that seemed a bit odd. Peters observed that the president failed to host family members of veterans who died while waiting for care from the Veterans Administration.
The McClatchy News Service headline of June 2, “Anger explodes over treatment of Bergdahl’s release as veterans, troops call him a deserter,” captured this same sentiment. The mother of one of the six troops who were determined to have been killed searching for Bergdahl stated that the Pentagon “really owes the parents of these fallen soldiers the truth.”
The report also cites Michael Waltz, who was the Army major in command of U.S. Special Forces in eastern Afghanistan when the sergeant disappeared. Waltz said that he had “deserted and shouldn’t have been accorded POW status.” Waltz called for accountability for Bergdahl.
Waltz related U.S. forces at checkpoints and sweeping villages were placed in greater risk because “the Taliban knew about the manhunt and were able to mobilize.”
I suspect that the administration did not expect much negative reaction over the exchange that will bring one American home. I’m also left wondering what advice senior American military leaders gave on how to handle this situation.
We may not know until the autobiographies of such officers are published, but I suspect they were not pleased with how things have developed.
Some day, and hopefully sooner rather than later, I’d be interested in hearing from Bergdahl directly on what motivated him and how he conducted himself while with the Taliban.
As for the terrorist detainees who now must stay in Qatar for one year, it seems obvious to me that it is merely a matter of time before they again target Americans and other westerners.
My prediction is that the more we learn about these events the greater the outrage will continue to build.
Michael Zimmer writes from Eldersburg. His column appears on Fridays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.