Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held captive by the Taliban for five years, has been freed in exchange for the release of five detainees from the Guantánamo Bay prison. Since the news broke, celebration has given way to controversy over the soldier’s record and the terms of his release.President Obama gave the news the full Rose Garden treatment, appearing alongside Bergdahl’s parents in a widely publicized address. After he hugged the President, Robert Bergdahl addressed his son in Arabic and Pashtu, and used a phrase which translates to “in the name of Allah, the most merciful.” Mr. Bergdahl has come under fire in the past for tweeting “God will repay for the death of every Afghan child, ameen.”As a further complicating issue, it seems Sgt. Bergdahl himself may not have been a model soldier. As the Telegraph reports:
In emails to his parents before he disappeared in 2009, Sgt Bergdahl indicated that he was considering desertion and denounced US operations in Afghanistan, writing in one: “The horror that is America is disgusting”.
The circumstances under which he was captured appear similarly murky: It seems that Sgt. Bergdahl sneaked out of his post one night, taking supplies and knives with him. During the ensuing search for him, at least two soldiers connected to his unit were killed. As the New York Times reports, some of his fellow soldiers see a direct link between his actions and those deaths:
The anger toward Sergeant Bergdahl increased exponentially after Sept. 4, when they learned that two members of Third Platoon, which routinely went on tandem missions with Second Platoon [Bergdahl’s own platoon] and who they believed were also searching for Sergeant Bergdahl, had been killed in an ambush.
However shady this whole affair may be, one can’t help but be glad that this young man is reunited with his family. And we at AI feel little desire to judge the actions of a troubled young man facing combat; nor do we think parents should be harshly condemned for every remark made while living with their loved ones in the shadow of war. But it was the White House that politicized this family and brought them under a spotlight better left unlit. Rather than let Sgt. Bergdahl quietly return home, the White House turned the klieg lights on the Bergdahl family, and left them blinking in a glare that did not serve them well.Whatever else this episode may be, it is not a clear win for the United States or for the increasingly rattled and off-balance Obama Administration. Nor will it endear the President to veterans who are disgruntled about the ongoing scandal of VA fraud and incompetence.The utterly counterproductive and inappropriate rollout of the news indicates that somebody in the President’s circle has at least temporarily lost his or her grip on reality. How a competent professional could have thought this story was the kind of big win to put on center stage escapes us. The President would be wise to ask whether some of his political operatives are losing their edge; his enemies create enough trouble for him without his friends getting involved.