The most effective indicator of the wrongness of the Bowe Bergdahl release is the collision of our natural emotional instincts with the deeply unsettling facts.
We would love to celebrate the release of an American imprisoned in a Taliban hellhole for five years, but we cannot. Testimony grows by the day that Bergdahl was an America-hating deserter whose empathy with his captors consumed any loyalty for his country.
As his hometown of Hailey, Idaho, plans a hero’s welcome, I am repelled by the growing notion that he deserves none of it. What he may well deserve is a traitor’s fate of court-martial and years of prison.
We would love to absorb the joy of his parents as they welcome their son home from captivity. This too is made difficult by the disturbing figure of the father, Bob Bergdahl, whose hatred of America and kinship with terrorists is even clearer than his son’s.
“I am still working to free all Guantánamo prisoners,” he wrote in a nauseating tweet later deleted. “God will repay for the death of every Afghan child, ameen!”
This twisted sentiment, punctuated with an Islamic “amen,” makes clear that Dad’s embrace of Taliban patois is not, as he asserted, to better communicate with his captive son. It is evidence of solidarity with the enemy.
When his son emailed the family that he was “ashamed to be an American” and “the title of U.S. soldier is just the lie of fools,” the father replied, “Obey your conscience!”
That mangled conscience won out over any sense of duty as Bergdahl apparently walked off his post and into enemy hands. Five years later, the next thing we are denied is a sense of satisfaction that our country handled this well.
From President Barack Obama (“It was the right thing to do”) to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (“an important day for our troops and our country”) to National Security Adviser Susan Rice (“He served the United States with honor and distinction. … This is such a joyous day”), the White House is force-feeding us a narrative of obligatory celebration, hoping to suppress our natural instincts to recoil at what was given up for Bergdahl’s release — five hardened, proven terrorists who may orchestrate attacks at will while lounging poolside in Qatar for a year before returning as rock stars to their homes.
As darkly as I view this hideous deal, I believe Obama did have the power to craft it without a 30-day notification of Congress. Disposition of wartime detainees is a presidential, not congressional, function. For those bristling at his decision, the solution is to elect better presidents.
Hagel seeks to defend the indefensible by explaining that such “prisoner exchanges” customarily accompany a war’s end. This is true when hostilities between recognized governments cease by mutual agreement. This was a negotiation with terrorists who are in no way ending their war against us.
We may not be able to stop the monsters we have released to gain Bergdahl’s freedom, but we can certainly delay the day when Bowe and Dad trade yarns on an Idaho porch about how swell the Taliban are and how evil America is for fighting them. Bergdahl should be trading a Taliban cell for a military prison while every question is answered regarding the circumstances of his absence. The real heroes in this story are the soldiers who died looking for his sorry hide.
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