Release Of Sgt. Bergdahl May Have Come At A High Cost

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Bowe Bergdahl's release and the prisoner swap that made it possible are raising thorny foreign policy questions, which are being voiced most loudly at this point by congressional Republicans.


Now the prisoner swap that brought Bergdahl freedom has drawn some sharp criticism here in the United States. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is with us next. Tamara good morning.


INSKEEP: So what bothers Republicans particularly about the trade, the five prisoners released from Guantanamo as part of this?

KEITH: Well, there are two concerns. One is that these are bad guys. The U.S. has assurances from the government of Qatar that their movements will be restricted and monitored. But Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran isn't t taking a lot of comfort in that assurance. He appeared yesterday on NBC's Meet the Press.


REPRESENTITIVE ADAM KINZINGER: You now are going to have five people potentially on the ground, targeting American troops, Afghan troops and the Afghan people. There's a lot of questions that need to be asked here. This whole exchange is shocking to me.

KEITH: Administration officials seem confident with the agreement they have with the Qataris, that the Gitmo detainees will be restricted, but a Gitmo detainee released several years ago ended up back in Afghanistan, in a leadership position in the Taliban.

INSKEEP: And then of course there's the president here, at least according to some because the U.S. government can be described as having negotiated with terrorists here in some fashion.

KEITH: Exactly, and administration officials are very clear on this, that the negotiations were indirect, that the Qataris served as mediators throughout the process. But one former Bush administration official I spoke with cringed at the image of the president of the United States standing next to clearly relieved parents of Bowe Bergdahl in the Rose Garden confirming that five Taliban fighters were released. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Buck McKeon released a statement saying in part, quote, "our terrorist adversaries now have a strong incentive to capture Americans, that incentive will put our forces in Afghanistan and around the world at even greater risk." But the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, on a trip to Afghanistan insisted the U.S. did not negotiate with terrorists and National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, said much the same thing on ABC's "This Week".


SUSAN RICE: Sgt. Bergdahl wasn't simply a hostage. He was an American prisoner of war, captured on the battlefield. We have a sacred obligation that we have upheld since the founding of our Republic to do our utmost to bring back our men and women who are taken in battle. And we did that in this instance.

INSKEEP: Given that there's been some congressional criticism, there's another angle here, Tamara Keith, and that's that members of Congress seem to have been taken by surprise, they were not told in advance this trade was taking place, which meant they had no opportunity to protest, it seems, before it happened. Should Congress have been notified in advance?

KEITH: The law does say that Congress should've been given 30 days advanced notice before prisoners are released from Guantanamo. But the Department of Defense consulted with the Department of Justice and determined that there were unique and exigent circumstances. An administration official tells me that although there were discussions off and on for five years, this deal really only came together in the last week or so. And Defense Secretary Hagel said there were also immediate concerns for Bergdahl's health and safety. But you can better believe there will be a whole slew of congressional hearings on all aspects of this. And I have to say that this story just has a lot of gray and not a lot of black and white. It starts with questions about the circumstances around Bergdahl's capture.


KEITH: And continues to the questions around his release.

INSKEEP: Is it clear to you at all, Tamara, it's certainly not to me, what it was that changed after all those years of negotiations or intermittent negotiations, what it was that changed that made it possible for the release to happen now?

KEITH: What Hagel was saying is that there were concerns about the health. The other thing was that the Taliban came to the Qataris, reportedly, and said they were ready to talk again. The administration is sort of spinning this forward in hopes that this could lead to broader discussions between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

INSKEEP: Tamara, thanks very much as always.

KEITH: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith on the political uproar after the release of an American prisoner in Afghanistan. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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