The White House, A Libertarian-Republican, and Taliban Talk Bergdahl
The swap of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held hostage for five years in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in exchange for five high-ranking members of the Taliban has proven to be controversial to say the least. Today, even more claims have been made about the legality of the exchange and its repercussions. President Barack Obama defended his action, libertarian-leaning Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) criticized his own party's claims that such exchanges are unheard of, and a Taliban commander said that his group now intends to take more high-profile hostages.
"I make no apologies for making sure we get a young man back to his parents," the president said from the G7 summit in Brussels. "We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated and…we saw an opportunity and we seized it, and I make no apologies."
Republicans have voiced loud criticism of the Obama administration for the exchange. One of their major contentions is that the White House conducted the deal illegally by not giving Congress 30 days notice that it was releasing Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the White House has a defense, though:
Obama administration officials have told lawmakers they didn't give Congress advance notice of a prisoner exchange with the Taliban last week because the Taliban had threatened to kill Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl if news of the pending trade deal leaked out, according to a Senate aide familiar with the discussions. …
As White House officials interpret the law, they were permitted to sidestep the 30-day notice rule because delaying the transfer would have interfered with the president's constitutional duties to protect the lives of Americans abroad and U.S. soldiers.
Hawkish members of the GOP have also argued that Obama's decision to deal with the Haqqani network, which was holding Bergdahl, marks a dramatic removal from the United State's policy of not negotiating with terrorists.
Labrador, however, who has been described as having "libertarian tendencies," broke ranks with his party on this matter. He said:
I'm a little bit disturbed by some of the Republicans out there who keep saying this has never happened before.
That is not entirely true. If you look historically, at the end of any conflict, you have a swap of prisoners, and that happens. Usually our side will release people that are less than desirable in order to get some of our people back in these swaps. So I would suggest that anybody who's being hyper-critical about this, they should look at the history. This has happened before.
Indeed, numerous policy experts have corroborated Labrador's claim, citing the Iranian Hostage Crisis during the Carter administration, the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan administration, and so on.
Still, conservatives' concern that the deal could put more American lives at risk may not be wholly unfounded. An unnamed Taliban leader told Time that the deal has shown them that they have leverage when they kidnap people like Bergdahl. Speaking under the condition of anonymity, the commander said, "It's better to kidnap one person like Bergdahl than kidnapping hundreds of useless people. It has encouraged our people. Now everybody will work hard to capture such an important bird."