SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- As Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl recovers at a hospital overseas, controversy over his release is raging across the United States.
The Taliban held Bergdahl captive for five years, agreeing to turn him over to U.S. forces in exchange for five high-level Afghan detainees.
The news of his release was initially hailed as a triumph. But, as details emerged about the deal brokered to bring the soldier home, there’s been a lot of talk at VFW Post 9820 in South Bend.
“It was too much to give up for one person,” said Vietnam War Veteran Bob Johnson. “History will tell you that there have been other prisoners of war that have been assassinated because we wouldn’t adhere to what the enemy wanted. I think because of the high level of terrorists that we gave up, I think it’s a mistake.”
Gulf War Veteran Roger Barclay agrees. He says prisoner swaps weren’t uncommon when he was serving, but they were always done at a one-to-one ratio.
“Exchanging one for five and major leaders of the Taliban – no, it’s not right,” he said. “It should have been one for one. Equal. But, it wasn’t.”
Some are worried the exchange will send the wrong message – that the United States will negotiate with terrorists.
And, while the released detainees will be under tight surveillance for at least the first year, there are concerns they could return to the fight.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen next,” Barclay said. “That these five have been released, we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The situation is complicated further by accusations that Bergdahl willingly left his guard post before being captured. At least six soldiers died during a massive search for Bergdahl.
President Barack Obama defended the prisoner swap during a press conference in Warsaw.
“Regardless of the circumstances, whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity,” he said.
There have been questions about whether Obama violated the law by not giving the proper congressional notification for the prisoner exchange.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said in a statement that Obama put Congress on notice on Dec. 23 that he intended to act as commander in chief, if necessary, ‘to act swiftly in conducting negotiations with foreign countries regarding the circumstances of detainee transfers. While the President cannot change the law with a signing statement, given that notice, members of Congress should not be surprised that he acted as he did in the circumstances that existed.’