Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held captive in Afghanistan for five years, was released from captivity by the Taliban over the weekend, in exchange for the release of five prisoners from the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The story of the circumstances of Bergdahl’s captivity is unclear, but what is being reported is both curious and interesting. Already, there are questions being raised about precisely how he was captured and whether he was responsible in some fashion for his own situation. A former soldier in Bergdahl’s battalion has contended that he left his post voluntarily and that other American soldiers were killed while trying to find and rescue him. The Washington Post reports that some of his fellow soldiers consider Bergdahl to be a deserter who had become disillusioned with the war in Afghanistan and should be held accountable for his actions.
If there are questions about what Bergdahl did and didn’t do — and the stories being reported certainly suggest that there are — they should be investigated. The determination of whether a soldier is a deserter is one reserved to the military, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. I think we should leave that question to those authorities, and in the meantime refrain from rushing to judgment, one way or the other, about Bergdahl. We can all, at least, be happy for his parents that their son has been freed from captivity.
It’s also reasonable for Congress to examine the circumstances of the swap of Bergdahl for the Taliban prisoners. What assurances did the Administration give, and what did they receive? Was this situation one that was treated as an effort to free a POW, or was it more like negotiating to free a hostage? Did the Administration’s approach signal a change in American policy, or not? These are not empty, political questions; they are important, practical inquiries that are worth careful examination in a real world that unfortunately is full of terrorism and potential dangers. Here, too, however, it is important not to leap to conclusions. In a world of throwaway sound bites, this is an issue that cries out for careful, dispassionate consideration after all of the facts have been marshaled.