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June 4, 2014

Prisoner swap for American soldier sparks controversy

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The U.S. government recently made a deal with the Taliban to exchange the last remaining American soldier in Taliban custody for five Taliban commanders being held prisoner at Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. Twenty-eight-year-old Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was captured during the war in Afghanistan, and has been a prisoner of the Afghan Taliban since 2009.

The Taliban is a fundamentalist Islamic political movement, which was forced out of power in Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion in 2001.

The five newly released Taliban commanders will be sent to Qatar, where they are banned from travelling for one year.

Despite the welcome news that no Americans are still captive in Afghanistan, critics question whether the prisoner swap was the right choice for the U.S.

“I think the big issue here is what’s going to happen to these five individuals,” said Arizona Sen. John McCain. “If they reenter the fight, then it is going to put American lives at risk, and none of us want that to happen, not Secretary Hagel or anybody.”

But President Obama sought to reassure the public that he wouldn’t have made such a decision if it threatened the country’s national security.

“We have confidence that we will be in a position to go after them if, in fact, they are engaging in activities that threaten our defenses,” he said.

The circumstances surrounding Sgt. Bergdahl’s capture five years ago have also come under scrutiny.

Not very long after he was captured, Bergdahl said in a Taliban video that had been taken prisoner when he was lagging behind.

However, Bergdahl’s team leader and former Army Sgt. Evan Buetow, said, “The fact of the matter is, is, he deserted us, in the middle of Afghanistan, to go and find the Taliban.”

The president has also been criticized for not telling Congress that the swap was about to take place. Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken apologized to the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, for the lack of notification.

After Sgt. Bergdahl completes treatment at a U.S. military hospital in Germany, he will return to American soil, where he will face questions from Army officials conducting a review of his case.


Warm up questions
  1. Why do you think military forces take prisoners of war? Why don’t they just kill them?
  2. Which parts of the government are involved in military decisions?
  3. What is the Taliban? What are some of the beliefs of Taliban members? Why does the United States label the Taliban as a terrorist organization? Do you think Taliban members of themselves as terrorists?
Discussion questions
  1. Do you think that the prisoner swap was good for the United States overall? Why or why not?
  2. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s former team leader in Afghanistan reported:

    “(He )walked away. He walked right off the base. The fact of the matter is, is, he deserted us, in the middle of Afghanistan, to go and find the Taliban.”

    If that statement is true, should the U.S. still have traded five of our prisoners of war for Bergdahl? Why or why not?

Writing prompts

Imagine that you are a U.S. soldier fighting far from home. You are the leader of your platoon and it is your responsibility to keep your company safe. You believe that one of your soldiers walked off the base on his own accord to search for the Taliban. Leadership in the military and the president himself has asked you to help recover this solider, but you know that the rescue attempt may cost other soldiers their lives. Do you comply with the request of the president and your superior officers, or do you try to convince them not to go after this soldier? Explain your answer.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of a military team leader deployed to Afghanistan. You take your role very seriously and believe that the safety of your troops is paramount. You believe that one of your soldiers walked off the base on his own accord to search for the Taliban. Leadership in the military and the president himself has asked you to help recover this solider, but you know that the rescue attempt may cost other soldiers their lives. Do you comply with the request of the president and your superior officers, or do you try to convince them not to go after this soldier? Explain your answer.

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