Ever since President Barack Obama agreed to release Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five high-level Afghan detainees, he has faced widespread criticism – most notably from Republicans in Congress. While Bergdahl, the only American POW of the Afghan war, became somewhat of an overnight celebrity, the media has focused more on the five Afghan prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay, one of whom had direct ties to Osama bin Laden.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has conveyed an upbeat sense of excitement when discussing the exchange, rejoicing over Bergdahl's freedom and gratefully acknowledging the special operations forces that participated in the rescue.
Obama, too, has followed Hagel's positive suit, proclaiming that Bergdahl symbolizes the great reality that
"[t]he United States of America does not ever leave [its] men and women in uniform behind."
Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-CA) and Jim Inhofe (R-OK), however, offer a different point of view; the two senators were among the first to take public issue with the release, arguing that Obama's prisoner exchange – the first prisoner exchange between the U.S. and Taliban in 13 years of war – violates U.S. law as it was ordered without Congressional permission.
White House officials quickly rebutted these accusations, arguing that "unique and exigent circumstances" justified the waiver of Congressional approval. Hagel specifically provided that, after spending five years of captivity, Bergdahl's "safety and health were both in jeopardy", to such an extent that Congress could not have been reasonably notified.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice further claimed that, as there have been extensive Congressional consultations regarding Bergdahl's release, Congress was certainly on notice that a detainee exchange was likely to occur.
Overall, U.S. officials have maintained that, in deliberating whether or not to execute the swap, they weighed the extent to which the exchange would aid efforts to reach a point of reconciliation with the Taliban against the risks such an exchange would pose. Ultimately, they concluded the former outweighed the latter.
It is these very risks, however, that have spawned public outrage; many fear that the Taliban or other terrorist groups will be incentivized to kidnap U.S. service members, citizens, or tourists in attempt to negotiate the release of more prisoners.
It would appear that such fears are not unjustified; TIME magazine released an anonymous interview with a senior Taliban commander just last week. When asked whether the exchange will inspire Taliban members to kidnap more American service members, the official reportedly laughed and said,
"Definitely; it's better to kidnap one person like Bergdahl than kidnapping hundreds of useless people."
The commander further referred to the exchange as an encouragement, stating that it sets a precedent for Taliban members to
"work hard to capture [more individuals like Bergdahl]."
In the same interview, the Taliban official describes "scenes of intense jubilation among the Taliban leadership and their supporters" in which the participants feast on "whole goats cooked in rice" with "candies and sweet pastries" – a sacred meal reserved for celebratory occasions. The official was quoted as saying.
"I cannot explain how our people are happy and excited over this unbelievable achievement. This is a historic moment for us. Today our enemy for the first time officially recognized our status."
The official went on to describe Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar as being "so happy" with the exchange, "anxiously waiting to see his heroes."