A troubling prisoner exchange


Some POWs don’t deserve to come home.

That’s the implied message of much of the criticism of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who spent five years as a captive of the Taliban before his release last weekend in a controversial prisoner exchange.

Some of his fellow troops say Bergdahl had doubts about the war in Afghanistan and deserted his unit. Some call him a traitor.

That’s one of two arguments that have fanned the prisoner swap into a political firestorm. It’s also the argument that is easier to dismiss.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote on Facebook that “questions about this particular soldier’s conduct are separate from our effort to recover any U.S. service member in enemy captivity.” The key words here are “any service member.”

America tries its darnedest to retrieve troops held by the enemy. We don’t fret about their politics or whether they thought the war was a good idea.

If we did, we would be rating POWs on whether they were patriotic enough to deserve rescue.

The fact that Sgt. Bergdahl was a U.S. service member in enemy captivity was, by tradition and in Gen. Dempsey’s own words, sufficient to warrant attempts to free him.

But it is the extent to which those attempts were carried that stirs the second, more potent argument.

Sgt. Bergdahl was freed in exchange for five terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Critics are wondering: Was it worth releasing five potential mass murderers just to get him back home?

Would the swap have been easier to accept if Bergdahl were a war hero? Shouldn’t the United States have a firm policy, some kind of doctrine, governing how and under what circumstances we will dicker with terrorists?

The answers to the first two questions are unknowable. The answer to the third is yes.

Time will tell whether the United States acted wisely in the Bergdahl affair. We can hope that when Sgt. Bergdahl is back home, he will appreciate the risks his country undertook to secure his freedom. We suspect he will.

We can also hope that the five terrorism suspects, now free in a friendly country, will helpfully swear off acts of violence. We suspect they won’t.

— From the Panama City News Herald

 

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