Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will soon be coming home. To what, probably he did not imagine during his five years of captivity.
His exchange for five Taliban fighters, some among its most senior leaders, has raised questions about the propriety and legality of the deal, and renewed doubts about the circumstances of his capture, and whether U.S. soldiers died during the effort to find him.
He has much to explain, but it’s important to note how different the discussion would be if he had died while in Taliban hands, possibly of whatever illnesses the Obama administration says posed an imminent threat to his health. That was the justification for the apparently lopsided swap without the 30-day notice he was required to give Congress, although that’s a constraint some argue impinged on the president’s authority to act as commander in chief.
Many of those now accosting Obama for his actions would have been just as critical had Bergdahl died with no effort to retrieve him, which would have been an unconscionable failure to honor a tradition that every service member be accounted for.
Nevertheless, Obama’s eleventh-hour or after-the-fact notifications and apologies to members of Congress, including his allies, underscore the breakdown in communications that has paralyzed Washington, D.C.
Given the political warfare, it is important that an inquiry like that suggested by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff be conducted as soon as Bergdahl is fit to participate. Many troubling accusations have been made about his behavior up to the time he apparently walked away from his post, leaving his gear behind. Judging from their stony reaction to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s remarks in Afghanistan, the troops believe Bergdahl is a deserter unworthy of rescue.
But, as Army Gen. Martin Dempsey said Tuesday, “The questions about this particular soldier’s conduct are separate from our effort to recover ANY U.S. service member in enemy captivity.”
Dempsey is right, and those questions must be answered to the satisfaction of the troops, and the American people. Whatever investigation the military undertakes should be as transparent as possible. Nor should the politics surrounding Bergdahl’s return be allowed to spill over into the Army’s investigation, which could be months away.
Congress should honor the military’s process and focus its inevitable hearings on whether the president exceeded his prerogatives, the nature of the agreement with Qatar, which has custody of the newly released Taliban prisoners, and whether it’s finally time to shut down Guantanamo Bay detention facilities and make alternative arrangements for the remaining captives.
When the last American soldier leaves Afghanistan, holding them as prisoners of war will be untenable.
Bergdahl, if he can, must show his fellow soldiers and all Americans he is worthy of the sacrifices made to bring him home. The unconditional love of his family can help sustain him through the months ahead. The rest of us should observe, and withhold judgment.