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Washington Debates Terms of Bergdahl Release

  • Michael Bowman

A U.S. Army sergeant freed by the Taliban after nearly five years in captivity is receiving medical attention in Germany before an expected reunion with his family in the United States. The Obama administration is responding to criticism from some lawmakers over the release of five detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in return for Bowe Bergdahl’s freedom.

Hours after Bowe Bergdahl’s release near the Afghan-Pakistan border, President Barack Obama shared a moment of joy with the sergeant’s parents, Bob and Jani.

“I know that I speak for all Americans when I say we cannot wait for the moment when you are reunited and your son, Bowe, is back in your arms,” said Obama.

Bowe Bergdahl’s mother then expressed her gratitude.

“I just want to say thank you to everyone who has supported Bowe. He has had a wonderful team everywhere. We will continue to stay strong for Bowe while he recovers.”

But amid cheers, some criticize the price paid for Bergdahl’s freedom, and worry that dealing with the Taliban could embolden militants and put more Americans at risk.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz, speaking on ABC’s This Week program, was among those questioning the deal.

“I think it is very disturbing that we are releasing five acknowledged terrorist Taliban leaders in a deal with terrorists. Sergeant Bergdahl was fighting to capture these terrorists. Can you imagine what he would say to his fallen comrades who lost their lives to stop these people who were responsible, directly or indirectly, for threatening or taking U.S. civilian lives? I mean, that is why we sent our soldiers there (to Afghanistan),” said Cruz.

The Obama administration’s justification rests on a view that Sergeant Bergdahl was a prisoner of war, not a hostage. National Security Advisor Susan Rice said that the U.S. has a special responsibility to freeing those captured in battle.

“We have a sacred obligation that we have upheld since the founding of our republic to do our utmost to bring back our men and women who were taken in battle. And we did that in this instance. If for some reason we took a position now in the 21st century, when some of our adversaries are not state actors, that we would not do our utmost to bring our prisoners of war home, that would break faith with the American people and with the men and women who serve in uniforms,” said Rice, also speaking on ABC’s This Week.

On a visit to Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel echoed Rice's argument, and did not rule out the possibility of other breakthroughs with militants.

Last week, President Obama announced a small residual U.S. force will remain in Afghanistan next year if the country signs a bilateral security agreement with the United States.