By Charlotte Thun-Hohenstein
A soldier returning from a warzone alive is usually cause for celebration. But if that soldier is accompanied by allegations of desertion, and the condition for his return is the release of hostile prisoners from the opposing side, the emotions become confusing, if not agonizing. Such is the case surrounding US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, released by his Taliban captors on May 31st in exchange for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
Bowe Bergdahl has become a divisive figure, and the controversy seems warranted: reports suggest his capture by the Taliban five years ago was because he deserted his post. This followed upon email exchanges with his family revealing deep disenchantment with the war effort, even stating “I’m ashamed to even be an American.”
The varying assertions that US soldiers have in fact died searching for Bergdahl only adds to the dismay of many that he will be given a ‘hero’s welcome’ while thousands remain behind carrying out their duty. The cost of his return is also a source of consternation: all five of the Taliban detainees are classified as ‘high’ risk by the Joint Task Force of Guantanamo. Even beyond any symbolism of ‘negotiating with terrorists,’ many have real concerns about the safety of American lives with these men at large. The fact that Obama sidestepped Congress in releasing Guantanamo prisoners is a bloody cherry on top.
Those sympathetic to the deal assert that ‘no soldier should be left behind,’ and if Bergdahl did indeed betray his country, this should be addressed through the American legal system, not by leaving him to die in enemy hands. Politically, the swap may also bolster stability in the relationship between the Taliban and the United States as American military presence in Afghanistan winds down. Furthermore, negotiation with the Taliban may not constitute negotiation with terrorists, and there is historical precedent for this. Finally, Obama’s congressional oversight is attributed to a window of opportunity beyond which Bergdahl’s life may have been endangered.
It is a highly fraught affair, and only just unfolding. BTN discussed these murky issues this week with John Knefel of the Radio Dispatch podcast on BreakThru Radio.
For more, check out John’s recent article for RollingStone.com on the subject.
Host, Writer – Charlotte Thun-Hohenstein
Video Editor – Andy Morell
Script Supervisor – Matthew DeMello
Research – Lisa Autz
with guest – John Knefel