I am watching the unfolding of the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with some interest. We all welcome his liberation from captivity with the Taliban; however, there are three rather thorny aspects to the story, two of which, at least, have yet to be played out.
One is, of course, the testimony of his fellow soldiers that the sergeant willingly walked away from his guard post and delivered himself to the Taliban, having become disillusioned, or as he put it, disgusted, with America's role in Afghanistan. These fellow soldiers go on to point out that at least six of the sergeant's colleagues were killed in the attempt to rescue him. However, every combat situation is liable to be confused, and sometimes it is impossible to determine exactly what happened. The truth of all this remains to be seen, though I note that the mainstream media has been careful to distance itself from claims that the sergeant is a hero, pending, I suppose, the determination of whether he was, in fact, a deserter. It would be embarrassing, to say the least, if they trumpeted his heroism, only to see him eventually court-martialed for desertion or worse. (It is interesting to note that on this point, Secretary of Defense Hagel has refused comment.) But on these questions, all of us must wait for answers, and hope that they are forthcoming from the administration, which probably saw the sergeant's release as a no-lose situation, especially in light of the current VA scandal.
The second aspect to this story, however, is not in doubt: The president broke the law in negotiating for the sergeant's release in exchange for terrorist leaders held at Guantanamo, without first notifying Congress. Whatever may prove true of Sgt. Bergdahl's capture by the Taliban, the fact seems clear that, once again, this administration has shown its willingness to break the law when it sees fit to do so, and when it believes it can get away with it under cover from the media. I do not know how many times I have had to write on this blog about Mr. Obama violating the law and his oath of office, as he did, for example, when he unilaterally assumed the authority to condemn American citizens to death because of alleged terrorist associations, or as he continues to rewrite the health care law every few weeks to try to stave off its worst effects and failures. When he assumed office, he laid his hand on the Bible and swore to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. He apparently added under his breath: Unless I disagree with them.
Now, Abraham Lincoln, whom I regard as the greatest of all American presidents, often intervened to grant pardons to young Union soldiers who had been condemned to death for desertion or falling asleep at their posts. Usually, he freed them with the understanding that they would return to their regiments and serve honorably for the duration of the war. He did this for two reasons: first, because he was a compassionate man, and second, because he had the authority to do so, given the power of the pardon. But even if you assume that President Obama shares Lincoln's compassion for soldiers, you cannot claim that he also has the power to do what he has done. The law is clear: He was required to notify Congress thirty days in advance of any such negotiation requiring the release of known terrorists. (If you want to argue that notifying Congress might have resulted in a leak that would have thwarted the affair, then you are simply echoing Obama's own logic; namely, that I will break the law on the grounds that obeying it might interfere with what I am doing. That Nixonian logic would be a slick defense for any criminal to offer in court.)
And here is the third aspect of this matter, which also remains unresolved: Will the release of five dangerous international terrorists, who have already shown their eagerness to murder Americans, have the consequence that we might well suspect it will? Will these men, once freed, resume their fanatical jihad against the people of this nation? I think the answer is clear: They will, the instant they have the ability to do so. And so we must ask ourselves: Has the Obama Administration purchased the life of one man, who may have voluntarily defected to the Taliban, at the cost of the lives of other Americans in the future? I fear that the answer may be Yes.
(Of course, if Sgt. Bergdahl's colleagues are correct, and he did desert to the enemy, then the irony of all this may be that we will see him freed from the Taliban only to be sentenced to prison in this country. That, however, I cannot imagine the administration will allow: To borrow a line from the novel Catch 22: He can either be a black eye or a feather in our cap. And to that end, it seems that several members of the sergeant's platoon have already been required to sign oaths not to discuss the matter.)
Whatever proves to be the case, the release of Sgt. Bergdahl thus presents us with a difficult perplex: Is it wise to trade the lives of captured soldiers for the freedom of captured terrorists? But more importantly: Should we excuse lawbreaking by the President of the United States in the name of a purported compassion?
Again, Lincoln provides the answer. In 1864, he acceded to General Grant's request to suspend the prisoner of war exchange with the Confederacy, which had been ongoing since the start of the war. Grant pointed out that Union prisoners, once freed, were released from the service, while Confederates were immediately returned to the fighting. This, Grant argued, only served to prolong the war, providing the Rebels with troops to make up for those they had lost, and whose loss they could not afford. Suspending the exchange was a difficult decision for Lincoln, but he bowed to Grant's logic and did so. The result was that over 50,000 men died in the camps as the result of starvation, disease, abuse and neglect. Thus, Lincoln made the decision that it was not justifiable to exchange our soldiers for those of the enemy, since that would only enable and encourage them to continue the fight.
Of course, Mr. Obama, who once was mystifyingly compared to Lincoln, does not see this. If it is true that Sgt. Bergdahl defected to the Taliban, for whatever reasons, and that six of his fellow soldiers died trying to recover him, and that more Americans will be murdered by the terrorist lunatics he has freed, then he and the rest of us may have cause to regret this release. But the overriding question remains that of presidential lawlessness, for that precedent will come back to haunt us in future. A commentator observed recently that Barack Obama is the kind of president that Richard Nixon dreamed of being. I am afraid he may be right.