The Free Press, Mankato, MN


June 5, 2014

Our View: The high price of a captured soldier

Why It Matters: The United States appears to have paid a heavy ransom for a captured soldier.

The good news is that Bowe Bergdahl, the sole American soldier held by the Tailban, is back in American hands.

The bad news is pretty much everything else.

To win the return of the sergeant from Idaho, the Obama administration agreed to release five prominent detainees from the Guantanamo Bay camp and to sidestep a legal requirement that it provide Congress with 30 days notice before releasing Gitmo detainees.

A five-for-one deal is one thing. Five men who may well step back into leadership roles with the Afghan militants are another, especially because their time in American hands probably did little to moderate their opinions about the United States.

Then there’s the mystery of exactly how Bergdahl wound up in Taliban control. He is believed to have left his combat base in Afghanistan on his own volition. It’s possible he’ll ultimately be charged with desertion or with going AWOL; it’s also possible that the Pentagon will decide five years in captivity is sufficient punishment.

Regardless of whether Bergdahl faces legal charges, there seems little doubt that his capture, and the resulting attempts to find and recover him, cost American lives. The ransom for his release may possibly result in more deaths.

Administration officials said during the weekend that Bergdahl, captive for almost five years, was in failing health and that time was of the essence. Susan Rice, the president’s national security advisor, said Sunday: “Had we waited and lost him, I don’t think anybody would have forgiven the United States government.”

Perhaps. Some regard it as a “sacred duty” to get back any and all captured service personnel. That was clearly the administration’s priority in this exchange.

And some regard it as an equal sacred duty for a soldier to stick with his unit and do his job. Bergdahl’s complicity in his capture at best muddies the importance of getting him back.

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