Last week the Obama administration traded five Taliban commanders detainees in Guantanamo Bay for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the only American prisoner of war.
The backlash has been swift, especially from 28-year-old’s fellow soldiers.
On June 30th, 2009, Bergdahl reportedly walked off a U.S. outpost in eastern Afghanistan with nothing but water, a knife, a digital camera and his diary.
He was captured almost immediately, spurring a search that cost U.S. soldiers their lives: At one point, his battalion suffered six fatalities in three-weeks.
There were previous indications that Bergdahl might desert: The home-schooled Idaho native had told a fellow soldier: “If this deployment is lame, I’m just going to walk off into the mountains of Pakistan,” according to report by Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone.
Once he arrived at the Paktika outpost, Bergdahl reportedly “spent more time with the Afghans than he did with his platoon.” And in emails he sent to his parents, Bergdahl seemed completely disillusioned with the war effort.
At the time, one Obama administration official told Hastings: “We don’t give a shit why he left. He’s an American soldier. We want to bring him home.”
Two Republican lawmakers have accused the president of breaking the law by approving the swap of Gitmo detainees before notifying Congress. The administration agreed that they bypassed legal requirements, citing “unique and exigent circumstances” as justification.
Now that Bergdahl’s home, many of his fellow soldiers are venting their anger.
“He walked off,” Baggett, a member of Bergdahl’s company, told Jake Tapper of CNN. “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. I don’t know why he decided to do that, but we spend so much of our resources and some of those resources were soldiers’ lives.”
Former Sgt. Matt Vierkant, a member of Bergdahl’s platoon when he went missing, put it bluntly: “I don’t understand why we’re trading prisoners at Gitmo for somebody who deserted during a time of war, which is an act of treason,” Vierkant told CNN.
Another soldier who was on the ground during the search wrote a scathing blog post about the deal:
“The latest news of 5 GITMO detainee transfers for this kid’s life left me nauseated. From everything I was receiving, Haqqani never expected to get any of the prisoners, let alone 5 of some of the most highly valued targets we had in holding. The US negotiators had fallen for the bluff … the threat of killing the kid. …
The deal that has been made is a slap in the face to every American soldier alive and dead that has served this country with honour. Bowe Bergdahl is a traitor. He willingly left his post and his fellow soldiers to go on a spiritual stroll in Afghanistan, convert to Islam and ultimately join up with the Taliban … and in so doing cost us the lives of great soldiers who were tasked with finding him.”
The counterargument, as laid out by Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor, is that prisoner swaps are part of ending wars and America’s only POW is now home.
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