U.S. Frees Taliban Prisoners in Exchange for Army Sergeant

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Obama Criticized for Potentially Compromising Anti-terrorism Agenda

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl

U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl

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After several years of negotiations, the U.S. and Taliban completed a prisoner swap on May 31, 2014. The Taliban surrendered Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, 28, who had been held prisoner since June 30, 2009, and the U.S. released five high-level members of the Taliban from the Guantánamo Bay prison. The detainees were handed over to Qatar officials and must remain in that country for one year. Qatari officials agreed to monitor the detainees to make sure they do not engage in militant activity. The Taliban released Bergdahl to American Special Operations troops in Afghanistan near the Pakistani border, and they transported him to Germany for medical attention. Reports said he had been in ill health.

Shortly after the prisoners were transferred, there were numerous reports that Bergdahl had deserted his post before being captured by the Taliban. An intense search began when Bergdahl's platoon discovered he had gone missing. Several members of Bergdahl's unit said at least two soldiers had been killed while searching for Bergdahl. In an interview with the New York Times, Joshua Cornelison, who served as a medic in Bergdahl’s platoon, said, "Everything that we did in those days was to advance the search for Bergdahl. If we were doing some mission and there was a reliable report that Bergdahl was somewhere, our orders were that we were to quit that mission and follow that report."

In March 2015, the U.S. Army charged Bergdahl with "misbehavior before the enemy" and desertion. The Army did not release details of the charges.

Opponents of President Barack Obama were quick to suggest he compromised national security by releasing high-ranking militants and the move would encourage other militant groups to take American hostages. "If you negotiate here, you’ve sent a message to every Al Qaeda group in the world — by the way, some who are holding U.S. hostages today — that there is some value now in that hostage in a way that they didn’t have before," said Repl Mike Rogers (R-Mich.).

In addition, Obama was criticized for not consulting with Congress 30 days before making the prisoner exchange, as required by law. Obama defended his decision, saying, "We have consulted with Congress for quite some time about the possibility that we might need to execute a prisoner exchange in order to recover Sergeant Bergdahl. We saw an opportunity. We were concerned about Sergeant Bergdahl’s health."

In regard to the members of the Taliban who were released, Obama said, "We will be keeping eyes on them. Is there the possibility of some of them trying to return to activities that are detrimental to us? Absolutely. That’s been true of all the prisoners who have been released from Guantánamo. There is a certain recidivism that takes place. I wouldn’t be doing it if I thought it would be contrary to American national security."

Afghan president Hamid Karzai was not made aware of the deal until after the prisoners were released.

—Beth Rowen
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