Our opinion: A good place to start the discussion


The release of Bowe Bergdahl from his five years of detention by the Taliban was met with relief by many people but there are lots of questions yet to be asked and answered.

It is not yet known why Bergdahl wandered off base prior to his seizure by militant forces, but members of his unit at the time have criticized him. Philip Sherwell, writing for the Telegraph, noted some of his military comrades consider him a deserter whose "selfish" actions cost the lives of six fellow soldiers searching for him.

"He is safe, and now it is time to speak the truth," said Nathan Bradley Bethea, an officer who served with Bergdahl in the 1st Battalion. "The truth is: Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down. The war was already absurd and quixotic, but the hunt for Bergdahl was even more infuriating because it was all the result of some kid doing something unnecessary by his own volition."

Bethea named six men who were killed in ambushes, firefights or by improvised explosive devices in August and September 2009 during search operations for Bergdahl and his suspected captors.

Whether Bergdahl will face prosecution for leaving his post is unknown at this point. But we would be amazed if after being held prisoner for five years any command official would make the decision to court martial Bergdahl.

Despite what comes next for Bergdahl, it comes as no surprise that senior Republicans and the right-wing echo chamber didn't need but about five seconds to come down hard on Pres. Barack Obama when they learned Bergdahl's release was secured by handing over to Qatar five "senior Taliban commanders" who have been held at Guantanamo for the past 12 years. Before the exchange Saturday, none were deemed eligible for release by the Pentagon.

Those on the right are concerned that making a deal with the Taliban could embolden terrorists to snatch Americans and hold them for ransom.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said the prisoner swap was "very disturbing."

"What does this tell the terrorists? That if you capture a U.S. soldier, you can trade that soldier for five terrorists. The idea that we're now making trades, what does that do for every single soldier stationed abroad? It says the reason why the U.S. has had the policy for decades of not negotiating with terrorists is because once you start doing it, every other terrorist has incentive to capture other soldiers."

"We have now set a price," said Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, on CNN . "We have a changing footprint in Afghanistan which would put our soldiers at risk for this notion that 'If I can get one, I can get five Taliban released'."

Arizona Sen. John McCain, while he didn't criticize the administration, expressed concern that these five men could rejoin the fight in Afghanistan. He said the five are "the hardest of the hard core" who were "possibly responsible for the deaths of thousands."

Marc A. Thiessen, writing in the Washington Post, said it shouldn't come as any surprise if after their year in Qatar is up, if the men return to do battle in Afghanistan.

"According to our own military, they are all 'high risk' to return to the fight. They will be welcomed back to the battlefield as jihadist heroes, and their reemergence after more than a decade in captivity will be a massive boost in morale for America's enemies."

Administration officials said negotiations for Bergdahl's release have been ongoing for the past three years, and it appeared his "safety and health were both in jeopardy," according to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

"The United States of America does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind," said Obama.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice said that getting Bergdahl back was a "sacred obligation" and "In all likelihood, (the returned Taliban detainees) will not pose a national security risk."

According to the Guardian, the GOP's condemnation of the swap raises the political stakes for both sides, putting the White House on the defensive but also exposing Republicans to accusations they would have abandoned a junior soldier to indefinite captivity and possibly death.

Writing for the Daily Kos, David Harris-Gershon said those critical of the swap need a history lesson.

"In 1985, while Iran and Iraq were at war, Iran made a secret request to buy weapons from the United States ... in spite of the embargo against selling arms to Iran."

Harris-Gershon noted that Pres. Ronald Reagan agreed to the deal in part because he had become frustrated at his inability to secure the release of the seven American hostages being held by Iranian terrorists in Lebanon. As president, Reagan felt that "he had the duty to bring those Americans home."

Does the United States have a history of negotiating with terrorists? Aaron Sharockman, writing for PolitiFact, asked Mitchell Reiss, who worked in the State Department under President George W. Bush and served as national security adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

"It may be new to certain individuals. Whether it's new or not is not as important as whether it's sound policy and promotes national security. That's the ground where there's a more legitimate debate."

We would welcome that debate, rather than the Republicans just finding this another reason to heap disdain and criticism upon the president. But if we are going to talk about whether we should have negotiated with terrorists for Bergdahl's release, can we also discuss how terrorists come to be?

A question we would like answered includes how many terrorists were created when we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan? Here's a few more: How many terrorists were created when the picture at Abu Ghraib came out? How many terrorists were created because of the torture and indefinite detention of alleged terrorists (alleged because most of them has never been tried in a court of law)? How many terrorists are created every time a drone strike kills innocent men, women and children?

These men and women become terrorists (or freedom fighters, depending on your politics and religion) not because they hate us for our freedoms. They become terrorists because of the United States' hubris and its willingness to forge blindly ahead for dubious causes not at all linked to our security or founding principles. They hate us because we say we stand for self-determination and human rights when we in fact have a history of interfering in the internal affairs of other countries and, most recently, of utilizing torture during interrogations.

If the Republicans want to have this discussion, we say it's about time.


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