It's clear that the military knew exactly who Sgt. Bergdahl right after he left his post: he was a deserter. The president had to know this but chose to use this Sgt. as a pawn in his political game in order to release the 5 terrorists.
As more and more troubling facts come out, there are two pressing questions:
Why did the president make this deal?
What was his legal basis to do so?
On the legality, the WH is sticking to their story that they did not break the law. The whole statement from Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, can be read at this link that outlines their justification for not notifying Congress 30 days prior, but here are a few excerpts that are conflicting at best:
First, there is no question that the Secretary made the determinations required to transfer the detainees under Section 1035(b) of the FY 2014 NDAA. Section 1035(b) states that the Secretary of Defense may transfer an individual detained at Guantanamo to a foreign country if the Secretary determines (1) that actions have or will be taken that substantially mitigate the risk that the individual will engage in activity that threatens the United States or U.S. persons or interests and (2) that the transfer is in the national security interest of the United States. The Secretary made those determinations.
On point (1), today Obama acknowledged that the Taliban detainees could return to fight against the United States, but said that he would not have agreed to the deal if he thought it would hurt national security. “We will be keeping eyes on them,” he said. Well that's hardly substantially mitigating future risk to our soldiers still in Afghan.
FoxNews reports that a senior Gulf official said the 5 would be free to roam about in Qatar, and then leave after a year. Sounds like a vacation since he also said no U.S. eyes would be monitoring them.
On point (2), that the transfer is in the national security interest of the United States, then I say return to the refute for point (1). It's in our security interest to let 5 barbarians roam loose for one deserter?
Back to the statement: With respect to the separate 30-day notification requirement in Section 1035(d), the Administration determined that the notification requirement should be construed not to apply to this unique set of circumstances, in which the transfer would secure the release of a captive U.S. soldier and the Secretary of Defense, acting on behalf of the President, has determined that providing notice as specified in the statute could endanger the soldier’s life.
So Congress was briefed extensively on the plans to kill Osama Bin Laden and no one leaked the plan but extracting one deserter soldier that they knew his whereabouts for years would jeopardize the operation if Congress was notified? Hogwash.
The facts are the soldier deserted his post, denounced his citizenship in a note he left with his gun before leaving his post, and sought out the Taliban to help them against his country. All this talk of time was of the essence due to poor health is a smoke screen. I'd like to know what his captivity as a POW was like if he was actually aiding and abetting his captors, perhaps a simpatico relationship?
We're told he was a POW, not a hostage. That distinction may become a stinking point as the WH says they're trading POWs for a POW.
All these years, the thugs at Gitmo have been referred to as detainees and terrorists, but never once have I heard them referred to as POWs (but I could be wrong).
One of the revealing wrinkles of the Bergdahl deal is that it’s now put the White House in the position of obliquely defending the Taliban’s legitimacy. Terrorists take hostages, and the United States as a rule doesn’t negotiate with terrorists. Legitimate armies, however, take prisoners, and the United States has always negotiated for POWs. Obama’s political need to have his strategy perceived as appropriate requires that the Taliban’s methods be seen as sufficiently appropriate too.
So the million dollar question is WHY did the president make this deal? The most obvious reason is that he is desperate to close Gitmo, just as he promised on his first day in office. So he used the Sgt. as a pawn in his political game to save his legacy. This is a stick in the eye to Congress that would never have gone along with this swap so he did it ASAP.
Also, this is his first step in shutting down the Afghan war, perhaps sooner than 2016. He wants to negotiate a seat for the Taliban at the Afghan government table, but this too will backfire since Hamid Karzid was blindsided by the move. And why didn't he demand a 2-year stay in Qatar since he announced a complete troop withdrawl by the end of 2016, not in one year!
So the why is the real question that needs answering. Perhaps we do need to release the remaining detainees at the end of the war in 2016, but that's two years away. But right now, we need to know if KSM will also be released on vacation to say Syria?