Though it may be hard for some of you to believe I actually do not seek out opportunities to blast President Obama. Regardless of how seldom I may agree with his political agenda I believe that it is my responsibility as a follower of Christ to respect and pray for the president. I also believe, however, that the citizens of the United States have a responsibility to hold our elected officials responsible for their actions and to expect that they follow the law.
Unless you live under a rock you know that the United States recently traded five al-Qaida and Taliban operatives for U.S. Army soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held captive in Afghanistan. This trade is troubling on many levels in my mind and in the minds of many others. Senator Lindsey Graham reportedly commented on the trade by saying, “The five terrorists released were the hardest of the hard-core.”
Other concerns include the fact that Bergdahl allegedly walked away from his unit in Afghanistan and sought out the Taliban, who gladly took him prisoner when their paths crossed. Bergdahl was held captive for five years and I certainly am not going to suggest that that is insignificant or was in any way deserved. However, there are allegations that he taught bomb-making techniques to the Taliban while he was being held. All the way back in 2010 the Daily Mail reported that Bergdahl was ” training Taliban fighters bomb-making and ambush skills” and, according to one of his captors, had converted to Islam and had taken a Muslim name.
Several of Bergdahl’s platoon mates have publicly stated that Bergdahl should absolutely not be called or considered a hero because he voluntarily left his unit and six U.S. soldiers died looking for him. “We all served together and we were all in it together over there and he broke that bond by leaving us,” Army Sgt. Josh Korder said on NBC’s TODAY show. Interestingly, the TODAY web site has a survey allowing readers to vote yes or no as to whether the U.S. trade for Bergdahl was the right thing to do. Fully 85% of the more than 16,000 voters have responded “no.” Not all that long ago the United States Army shot deserters. It still imprisons them. It certainly has not traded high level military prisoners in order to get deserters back.
Ultimately, it is none of the above–troubling though all of that is–that is the biggest problem. The biggest problem, and the one that should alarm every citizen if the United States, is that President Obama broke the law in the Bergdahl swap. U.S. law requires the president to give Congress thirty days notice before releasing any prisoner from Guantanamo Bay, where the five prisoners traded for Bergdahl had been held. President Obama did not do that. Apparently Obama informed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid but that was all. Neither Speaker of the House John Boehner nor Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein were informed in advance. On Tuesday Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken called Feinstein to apologize, Feinstein told reporters.
According to a report in TIME the swap occurred over the objections of members of the Pentagon and the intelligence community who had serious concerns about the dangers of releasing the five men. The explanation for the swift action in making the trade that was offered by National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden is absurd. Frankly, I think Ms. Hayden should have been embarrassed to make the statement. Here’s what she said:
Delaying the transfer in order to provide the 30-day notice would interfere with the Executive’s performance of two related functions that the Constitution assigns to the President: protecting the lives of Americans abroad and protecting U.S. soldiers. Because such interference would significantly alter the balance between Congress and the President, and could even raise constitutional concerns, we believe it is fair to conclude that Congress did not intend that the Administration would be barred from taking the action it did in these circumstances.
Therein lies no small part of the problem with the Obama Administration: it believes that it has the right to “conclude” whatever it wants about what Congress intends and to play fast and loose with the law when following it would get in the way of the president doing what he wants.
It stretches my imagination to contemplate how waiting thirty days for Congress to be notified of the swap in accordance with the law could possibly jeopardize the lives of Americans abroad or U.S. soldiers, particularly given that Bergdahl had already been held for five years. A further concern is that the U.S. did not make this swap with another sovereign nation but with a terrorist group. The reality is that making this trade put the safety of Americans abroad and U.S. soldiers at risk but communicating clearly to the world that the United States is willing to negotiate with terrorists and even to make a five-for-one trade in order to get back a deserter. If we’ll trade five major terrorist prisoners for one deserter what will the asking price be for an actual military hero? Or a diplomat? What about for the families of U.S. officials serving abroad?
At the end of the day, despite the rationalizations and press conferences and defenses of their actions, the Obama administration both violated the letter of the law and the spirit of the Constitution. The president takes an oath to serve, protect and defend the Constitution. No matter how revisionist you may want to be in your reading or interpretation of it, there is no way to make that fit with breaking the law or endangering American lives.