Bergdahl release puts White House, GOP in awkward spot

Between the White House's off-key celebrations and Republican's efforts to paint the administration as lawless and reckless after pressing for a deal, no one is getting out clean in the Bergdahl fallout.
By Gabrielle Levy  |  June 4, 2014 at 1:48 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 4 (UPI) -- The return home for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will be a difficult one, not least for Bergdahl himself, who will have to not only recover from the physical and mental strains of five years as a prisoner of war, but will also have to answer difficult questions about the circumstances of his capture.

But those trying to make a political point -- from the White House, celebrating the safe return of the only American POW in Afghanistan, to the Republicans criticizing the deal made for his release in exchange for five Guantanamo detainees -- are similarly finding themselves faced with uncomfortable questions.

While the Obama administration may have legal cover for technically ignoring a requirement to notify Congress 30 days before a prisoner swap, saying that Congress was aware of ongoing negations. Still, Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken called Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to apologize for the "oversight" of not fully briefing Congress on the Bergdahl deal.

"It's very disappointing that there was not a level of trust sufficient to justify alerting us," Feinstein said. "The White House is pretty unilateral about what they want to do and when they want to do it. But I think the notification to us is important."

Even more difficult for a celebratory White House are the statements from his fellow soldiers claiming he may have been a deserter -- the Pentagon says it will investigate the claims, but said Bergdahl's mental and physical health is too "fragile" to question him now -- and attempts to rescue him may have cost the lives of eight others. At the very least, members of his platoon blame him for those deaths.

But while those assertions certainly tarnish the happy homecoming, the terms of Bergdahl's release, and the five detainees who were flown to Qatar in exchange, has sparked the list concern.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was himself a prisoner of war, but he unequivocally said Tuesday he would not have accepted the deal to free Bergdahl.

"It's just disgraceful that we would ever consider releasing any of these people under any circumstances as long as they pose a threat to the security of the United States of America," McCain said. "That's where the decision was wrong."

"I would continue to seek Sgt. Bergdahl's rescue, release, whatever we could do," he said, "but not at the price of the lives of future men and women who are serving."

But McCain's comments were a reverse of a statement he made on CNN earlier this year, indicating he would "be inclined to support" Bergdahl's release "in exchange for prisoners for our American fighting man."

And McCain is far from alone. Many of his Republican colleagues are on record urging the White House to do everything it could to secure Bergdahl's release, and criticizing the administration for not doing enough.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., ripped into the administration Tuesday for setting "a precedent that could encourage our enemies to capture more Americans." But back in May, Ayotte released a statement touting her efforts to push the Department of Defense to "do all it can" to bring Bergdahl home.

Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., Bob Casey, D-Pa., Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Fla., are all similarly on record.

Others have gone as far as removing statements supporting Bergdahl. Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., has removed a statement, calling Bergdahl "a national hero," from his Facebook page and website.

Bergdahl, 28, is undergoing evaluation at a U.S. military hospital in Germany and will soon be returned to the U.S. If an investigation determines he deliberately walked away from his unit, Bergdahl could face dishonorable discharge and five years in prison.

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