On May 31, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the only American military member to be taken as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan, was released. In exchange for Bergdahl, the United States released five Taliban members from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
Bergdahl spent five years as a prisoner in Afghanistan, and is receiving outpatient care at a military base in Texas before returning to his family in Idaho. The Taliban members were released in Doha, Qatar. They have been given full freedom, except they are not allowed to leave Qatar for the first year of their release.
Bergdahl’s release is causing controversy in the U.S. and around the world. Many U.S. Army soldiers and veterans claim Bergdahl was caught and imprisoned because he deserted the army. In the search to find Bergdahl in 2009, at least six service members lost their lives.
Bergdahl returned to U.S. soil for the first time in over five years on June 13. It is unclear whether he is aware of the controversies surrounding his release and return, as he is said to not be in stable medical and psychological condition.
However, the Obama administration says that it is the U.S.’s duty to bring every soldier home, if possible, and that Bergdahl could not be forgotten in Afghanistan. In a CNN “State of the Union” show, John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State alluded that along with Qatar, the U.S. would be keeping an eye on the released militants.
Kerry said, “no one should doubt the capacity of America to protect Americans.” However, while some politicians are calling Bergdahl a hero, who served honorably, others are of the opinion that his actions only put Americans at risk.
The “Taliban Five”
The five men released in exchange for Bergdahl were Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Mohammad Nabi, Khairullah Kharikhwa, and Abdul Haq Wasiq. The Obama administration claims that the Bergdahl release deal was key in their efforts to compromise and settle with the Taliban.
A considerable amount of criticism regarding the Guantanamo release has put the Obama administration on the defense. Under U.S. security law, the Pentagon must notify Congress a month before any person is released from the detention facility. In this case, this was not communicated between the executive and legislative branches in enough time.
The Guantanamo Bay detention facility has received intense criticism from around the world since its opening in 2002. Human rights groups claim that prisoners are inhumanely tortured and imprisoned without charges, treatment which violates international human rights law.
The five men released in exchange for Bergdahl were detained because they were high ranking Taliban leaders who allegedly had a hand in planning the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States.
Polarizing reactions to Bergdahl’s release deal
While there is an argument that the release of the five Taliban members puts the U.S. at a compromised state regarding terrorist activity, there are others who say that the release does not really affect national security.
For example, Susan Rice, the U.S. National Security Advisor, stated that Bergdahl’s service in the army was an act of “honor and distinction” on ABC news program, “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
Rice has been criticized for these comments by U.S. Army members who knew Bergdahl, and do not agree that he served in this manner, and by members of the GOP who have been very critical of the Obama administrations actions regarding the whole situation. They view the Obama administration’s release of Taliban members as a threat to national security. Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), described the Taliban-five as “the highest high-risk people,” saying that “these individuals would have the ability to reenter the fight.”
Bergdahl’s father, who is now under scrutiny himself, has also openly advocated that the release of his son will help the U.S., as well as help to ease U.S.-Taliban relations.
Tensions are high as Bergdahl’s hometown of Hailey, Idaho had to cancel a homecoming celebration due to security reasons. According to the Idaho Statesman, the U.S. Army might now prosecute Bergdahl and charge him with desertion. This will be decided in the coming weeks, now that Bergdahl has returned to the U.S.