NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

June 6, 2014

Editorial: Bergdahl exchange raises important questions

Going into battle, every American soldier knows that, dead or alive, his comrades-in-arms will not leave him behind. This is a longstanding policy in the armed forces, one that gives our troops courage and confidence, secure in the knowledge they will never be forgotten.

So Americans should welcome home Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who last weekend was released from five years of captivity in Afghanistan in exchange for five top Taliban detainees held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Bergdahl was the last remaining captive soldier from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Once Bergdahl has been properly welcomed home, there are some serious questions about his capture and release that need to be answered. Among these is how Bergdahl came to be captured by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan in the first place.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Associated Press that Bergdahl walked away from his base on June 30, 2009. Some members of Bergdahl’s platoon told the AP he deserted, leaving behind his weapon and body armor, and walked toward Taliban positions. Several Americans were killed during the search for Bergdahl. If an investigation finds that Bergdahl did indeed desert his post, a court-martial would be appropriate. Gen. Dempsey stated that such a proceeding is a possibility.

Another question raised by the prisoner swap is whether President Obama violated the law. A 2013 law passed by Congress and signed by Obama requires that the administration give Congress 30 days notice before releasing any prisoner from the camp at Guantanamo Bay. The Obama administration did not notify Congress of the release of the five Taliban in exchange for Bergdahl.

When Obama signed the law last year, he issued a “signing statement” indicating he did not consider himself bound by the law because, among other reasons, it violates the Constitution’s separation of powers. Democrats in Congress during the George W. Bush presidency were harshly critical of that administration’s use of signing statements to circumvent laws with which it did not agree. Among the critics was then-Sen. Barack Obama.

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