OTHER VIEWS: Analyzing President Obama's prisoner exchange

June 4, 2014 

Following are some excerpts of editorials about the circumstances surrounding the prisoner exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl on Saturday.


It's a given that the most urgent and important actions are rarely easy. Take the case of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who spent almost five years as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan before an intricately plotted and choreographed release took place on Saturday. ...

President Barack Obama has some explaining to do: Why, for instance, did the administration leave Congress in the dark? And how confident are we that the five Taliban prisoners will be adequately monitored and restrained during their year in Qatar?

But GOP complaints about these very topics seem more like theater than substance. Really, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, we should've sent in a military force to extract Bergdahl and put even more soldiers in harm's way?

There are upsides in this episode, and on balance they outweigh the negatives. An American POW is on his way home, and the full story of the Bergdahl enigma will eventually be known. Also, contrary to Republican fears of Taliban blowback, there could be long-term positive consequences for U.S. relations as Afghanistan lumbers toward its difficult future on its own.


The choice facing President Obama with respect to Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was terribly unappetizing. He could leave an American soldier at the mercy of his Taliban captors, who had held him for five years. Or he could give up five Taliban inmates confined at Guantanamo Bay. In the end, Obama decided the first option was even worse than the second.

Such a swap is not a radical departure. American presidents have sometimes agreed to exchange prisoners with the enemy during times of war - and that includes George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Ronald Reagan gave up a Soviet spy to win the release not of an American spy or soldier, but a journalist. Reagan also sent weapons to Iran in exchange for hostages held by Iranian-supported terrorists.

Even the most indomitable foe of terrorism, the Israeli government, has often agreed to such swaps. In 2011, it released more than 1,000 prisoners in exchange for a single Israeli soldier held by Hamas. ... The overriding value of this swap is to reinforce to U.S. troops that this nation will not forget them should they be taken prisoner on the battlefield. That justifies the safe return of Bergdahl, even at a repugnant cost.


The United States doesn't leave its soldiers behind on the battlefield.

Doing whatever it takes to bring prisoners of war home is a sacred commitment to our men and women in uniform, and reason enough to trade five Taliban fighters for Bergdahl, the only American POW in Afghanistan.

There are troubling questions about how Bergdahl fell into enemy hands in June 2009. He was reportedly disillusioned with the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. He might have deserted his post and gone native. The Army needs to learn exactly what happened if only to better inform itself about unreliable recruits.

If Bergdahl went missing under less-than-honorable circumstances, he should be held accountable. But none of that ambiguity negated President Obama's obligation as commander in chief to see him freed.


The release of Bergdahl, a captive of Islamist extremists for almost five years, is good news not only for his family, but for all Americans. But the price the Obama administration paid for the 28-year-old soldier's repatriation was freedom for five detainees at Guantanamo Bay who are hardened Taliban commanders.

Critics of the administration say that price was too high, and they make three other arguments: that the exchange violated a long-standing U.S. policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists; that this country shouldn't negotiate with the Taliban because it might legitimize the group in Afghanistan; and finally, that the swift release of the detainees violated U.S. law. Most of these arguments are invalid or overstated.

Undoubtedly there is a risk in releasing the detainees. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., isn't alone in worrying that they "would have the ability to re-enter the fight." But under the agreement brokered by Qatar, the five men will be prevented from leaving that Persian Gulf emirate for a year and will be subject to monitoring of their activities during that time. Were they to return to Afghanistan later, it's likely that their movements there also would be followed closely.

Finally, unless the U.S. were to assert the right to hold the detainees forever without trial, they would have been released at some point. Why not do it now when it helps to secure the release of an American?

... Congress is free to press the administration about details of the arrangement that won Bergdahl's freedom. But the president must be equally free to respond to a diplomatic opening that could mean the difference between freedom and captivity for an American soldier.

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