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Monday, October 24, 2016

By Hannah Allam and James Rosen
McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON _ An American soldier who spent nearly five years in Taliban captivity was freed Saturday in exchange for five members of the Taliban who’d been imprisoned for years at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, in an unprecedented prisoner exchange that sparked both jubilation and controversy.

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, 28, the only U.S. soldier taken captive by the enemy in 12 years of the Afghanistan conflict, was turned over to a U.S. military task force in eastern Afghanistan at about 10:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, U.S. officials said. Less than four hours later, the five Taliban detainees took off from Guantanamo headed for the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, which brokered the deal. Under the terms of their transfer, the five are to remain in Qatar for at least a year.

President Barack Obama, flanked by Bergdahl’s parents, made brief televised remarks Saturday evening, thanking the foreign governments, American diplomats and U.S. military personnel who were behind the release effort.

“Sergeant Bergdahl has missed birthdays, and holidays and simple moments with family and friends which all of us take for granted,” Obama said. “But while Bowe was gone, he was never forgotten.”

Bergdahl’s parents, Jani and Bob Bergdahl, echoed the president in short, emotional remarks of their own in which they suggested that their son faced a long recovery after his years under Taliban control. Bob Bergdahl said he son was having trouble speaking English. Then, he addressed his son directly in Dari, one of the languages spoken in Afghanistan. “I am your father,” he then translated.

The deal resolves the question of whether the U.S. military would withdraw from Afghanistan without Bergdahl, who went missing from his base on June 30, 2009. But it also immediately sparked controversy.

For one, the Obama administration failed to notify Congress that it was transferring the five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo 30 days in advance, as U.S. law requires. U.S. officials explained the decision to notify Congress only as the detainees were turned over to Qatari diplomats by saying Obama was acting in his capacity as commander in chief.
“This is a case of the commander in chief exercising his prerogative to get one of his soldiers back,” one official said. He asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to address the issue publicly.

But some members of Congress were unimpressed. “Our joy at Sergeant Bergdahl’s release is tempered by the fact that President Obama chose to ignore the law, not to mention sound policy, to achieve it,” said a joint statement by Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. James Inhofe, (R-OK), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

There were also questions about the wisdom–and precedent–of freeing five high-ranking Taliban, all of whom were on the list of detainees not eligible for release, in exchange for one American service member.

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  • elw

    Be prepared for a new investigation and calls for impeachment. GOP is always ready to jump on anything. I am sure that the President would not have taken this move without notification of Congress unless he was sure he could legally do it. President Obama is a very cautious man and far too intelligent to do anything that would be illegal or used against him.

    • sigrid28

      Republicans assume President Obama acts as they do, or should I say “re-acts.” The president and his administration have not only thought this through like a 3D chess game they intend to win, but they have also anticipated all of these accusations and arguments Republicans now throw out so proudly, because, by golly, it’s new to them! Now they are preparing to become enmeshed in two PR quagmires of their own making, which they could have easily avoided, as solutions to both problems have traditionally received (and deserved) bipartisan support: the needed reform of the VA and the negotiated return of POWs. In their eagerness to defy the Obama administration, the Republican Party is so inept at nuanced political discourse that it is beginning to sound as though it is against support for our veterans and against support for our cherished policy of no soldier left behind–all the while claiming they are the true patriots. On the POW exchange, they refuse even to acknowledge the leadership who is a Republican.

      • elw

        Yep I have to agree with you. All those behaviors are exactly why the GOP will not do as well as they expect in 2014 and why they will continue to lose National elections. It is no secret that most of them are inept and intellectually lacking.

        • sigrid28

          Not wishing to condemn anyone to death, I am aware as Republicans are not (apparently) that the five former Gitmo detainees released in the exchange are marked men who will survive only as well as they comply with the limitations Qatar sets for them. Perhaps one (or two) may have been turned and look forward to life as a comfortable (though dangerous) life as a counter-spy.

          • elw

            They also choose to forget that Reagan arranged for the release of 100s of terrorist held in Israel for the release of the a few American hostages at the very beginning of his term. None of this is new there have been a number of these kinds of exchanges by Presidents of both parities. Their response is just another one of their reaction that ignores the facts and/or the past.

  • Lynda Groom

    I’m please too see our President doing his duty as commander-in-chief. Looking out for the welfare of the warriors under his command is what we expect from leadership. As to the whining coming from some in Congress that is best ignored. When they begin to do their jobs, then they can find fault with others. Gitmo would have been closed years ago if not for such similiar noise from Congress loaded with hyperbole.

    • Sandra Louis


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    • mike

      I am glad he is home but this is only the beginning.
      Just listen to his fellow soldiers who consider him a deserter. Look at the emails to parents saying how “ashamed even to be American”. Why send uniforms, books, etc. back early if not planning to walk away.

      In the above article you can read the 7 page Rolling Stones article written 2012 with all the details.

      Obama should never have made it a WH event. He should have not put Rice out on the TV show stating”Bergdahl “served with honor and distinction” when if was well known he did not(pentagon report 2010). This should have been handled with less fanfare and behind the scene to get him back.

      When you say Congress I hope you remember the vote not to fund the closing of Gitmo in the Senate was 98-2 in 2009. A Senate with a democrat majority.

      Obama just said this morning that those traded could return to targeting Americans.

  • sigrid28

    Perhaps there was the need to make room for Snowden and his entourage at Gitmo.

  • John Kenner

    In related news, here are the US deaths in Afghanistan, by year:Bush2001: 52002: 302003: 312004: 492005: 942006: 872007: 1112008: 151Total = 558Obama2009: 3032010: 4972011: 4942012: 2942013: 115Total = 1,703

    • Paul Bass

      It is NOT related news, you troll. This has nothing to do with Bowe Bergdahl!

      Go peddle your rants on Fox, where some moron might believe you.