On Tuesday, President Obama defended his administration’s decision to bring home U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban captivity, pushing back against critics who argue that Bergdahl’s public protest of America’s mission in Afghanistan and possible desertion to Pakistan in 2009 made him unworthy of rescue.
“The United States has always had a pretty sacred rule, and that is: we don’t leave our men or women in uniform behind,” Obama said in Warsaw, Poland. “Regardless of the circumstances, we still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity. Period. Full stop.”
Since Obama’s decision to trade Bergdahl for five Taliban-linked militants imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, Republican lawmakers, conservative commentators, and even some soldiers who served in Bergdahl’s unit have accused the administration of endangering American security by releasing high level Taliban officials into Afghanistan while American soldiers are still in the country. They also argue that Bergdahl’s growing disillusioned with the U.S. Army make his return less than desirable.
“I think the whole transaction represents really bad staff work. I’d be very, very careful before you run the president out to sort of claim victory at having earned the release of somebody who in effect went AWOL apparently, and left his post. So if I were there, I would not have supported the transaction,” former Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News Monday night. His comments echo similar sentiment expressed on Twitter by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and conservative publications that labeled Bergdahl a traitor.
However, General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, repudiated the notion that certain prisoners of war or hostages are not patriotic enough to be rescued, writing on Facebook that “the questions about this particular soldier’s conduct are separate from our effort to recover ANY U.S. service member in enemy captivity.” He added that while Bergdahl should be considered “innocent until proven guilty,” the Army’s leaders “will not look away from misconduct if it occurred.”
That sentiment is shared by veterans and POW groups. “We hope the Department of Defense does a complete investigation of the circumstances surrounding Sgt. Bergdahl’s initial disappearance and take whatever steps are warranted by the findings of that investigation,” American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger said in a statement.
“It’s totally premature for anyone to be jumping to conclusions until more is known, clearly he is undergoing some medical treatment and evaluation now and until a thorough investigation is done, I just think it’s inappropriate to be speculating on the circumstances that nobody knows much about,” Ann Mills-Griffiths, Chairman of the Board of the National League of POW/MIA Families, told ThinkProgress.
During his remarks, Obama also responded to charges that he circumvented a law requiring Congress to be notified 30 days before prisoners are transferred from Guantanamo Bay. “We have consulted with Congress for quite some time that we might need to execute a prisoner exchange,” Obama claimed, noting that officials acted quickly out of concern for Bergdahl’s declining health. “The process was truncated because we wanted to make sure we did not miss that window,” he said.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) admitted on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Tuesday that “in 2011 [the administration] did present a plan that included a prisoner transfer.” He claimed the committee hadn’t heard anything since.