An American soldier is being returned to his family after almost five years in Taliban custody, but Republicans aren’t happy about the means which the White House used to release him.
In order to secure Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s freedom, the White House agreed to return five Taliban members from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar, a concession which Republican Sen. Ted Cruz called “very troubling” on Sunday’s This Week.
“How many soldiers lost their lives to capture those Taliban terrorists we just released?” he asked rhetorically.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., expressed similar misgivings. While McCain, himself a former prisoner of war, said he was “pleased” by Bergdahl’s release in a Saturday statement, he sounded a more ambivalent note on Face the Nation the following day.
“It is disturbing that these individuals would have the ability to re-enter the fight, and they are big, high-level people, possibly responsibly for the deaths of thousands,” he said.
National security adviser Susan Rice on Sunday pushed back against similar criticism after House Intelligence Chair, Republican Mike Rogers, declared the Obama administration had “negotiated with terrorists” and thereby “put our forces in Afghanistan and around the world at even greater risk.”
Rice was asked on CNN’s State of the Union whether the White House had indeed negotiated with terrorists when it arranged for a prisoner swap in order to get Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl back from the Taliban, to which she replied that she “wouldn’t put it that way.”
“I wouldn’t say that at all,” Rice said. “When we are in battles with terrorists, and the terrorists take an American prisoner, that prisoner is still a U.S. serviceman or woman. We still have a sacred obligation to bring that person back.”Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Sunday’s Meet the Press that it was urgent to retrieve Sgt. Bergdahl despite the cost because his health was failing.
“This was essentially an operation to save the life of Sgt. Bergdahl,” Hagel said. Bergdahl traveled to receive medical care at Bagram Air Field hours after he was freed.
Also on Meet the Press, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., called the decision to release five Taliban members “shocking,” even given the circumstances.
But Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., accused Republicans of playing partisan games. If the White House had decided not to negotiate, and to instead leave Bergdahl to die in Taliban captivity, “[t]he Republicans would be going crazy now,” she said on the most recent Fox News Sunday.
Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar described the trade which led to Bergdahl’s release as “a great victory” for the Taliban.