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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Opinion

Exchange for one man leaves U.S. vulnerable for danger


POW-Jimmy Moreland

There’s no doubt Sgt. Bergdahl went through hell and back, but thousands of soldiers like this one that have made sacrifices outside the spotlight’s reach are forgotten. | Jimmy Moreland, The Daily Cougar

With the face of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl being plastered all over news reports nationwide, it is hard to look at the image of a young man in fatigues and a red beret, standing in front of the United States flag and say that he should have been abandoned and left for dead in Afghanistan. There are other faces not being shown, however, who are just as important.

There are the faces of the many soldiers who served in Afghanistan with Bergdahl— the U.S. soldier who was captured by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network and recently exchanged for five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay — and the soldiers who participated in the search for him after he went missing, and six of them died while doing so. These six men surely had similar official photos taken, but their faces were lost in the initial celebration of Bergdahl’s release.

A CNN article reported on the circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance, the substantial evidence that he was a deserter and the reactions to his release from other infantrymen and those involved in the military.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said that the Army has not classified him as a deserter, and the main priority was initially to get him home safely before investigating and determining anything definitively.

“We really don’t know why he left the base and under what circumstances,” Kirby said, adding that the circumstances of a soldier’s capture “don’t matter” when it comes to the military’s response.

Sterling Dodd, a supply chain management freshman who served in the Airborne Infantry for six years, believes as a soldier whose desertion led to deaths of six men, Bergdahl should have been left to deal with the consequences of his own decision.

“He walked off the command post. He made it very clear that he didn’t want to be there,” Dodd said. “He was a deserter. And there’s nothing to say that there’s anything really wrong with that … but since men died looking for him and he left his buddies mid-deployment, for us that feels like abandonment.”

Other faces not receiving as much attention are those of other Americans held captive by the Taliban. It makes one question why the U.S. government is unwilling to do anything for innocent civilians if they will do so much for a soldier who deserted his post.

“If it (were) up to me, Bowe Bergdahl would still be there … that’s where he wanted to be. That was his choice,” Dodd said.

An article by the Associated Press reported on a recently publicized video given to the family of an American-Canadian couple who have been held captive in Afghanistan since 2012. Then-pregnant U.S. citizen Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle were traveling through Afghanistan when the Taliban abducted them. The family members released the video in the wake of Bergdahl’s rescue, disappointed that the couple and their 18-month old child were not included in the exchange deal and that the government has not done more for these “naïve adventurers.”

“He walked off the command post. He made it very clear that he didn’t want to be there,” Dodd said. “He was a deserter. And there’s nothing to say that there’s anything really wrong with that … but since men died looking for him and he left his buddies mid-deployment, for us that feels like abandonment.”

Then there are the many faces of all those who worked to capture the released Taliban leaders, and anyone who may now be affected by the Taliban’s future actions. The release of dangerous enemies back to the Taliban does not bode well and could contribute to more American deaths. In addition, the exchange of prisoners — and an unequal exchange at that — leaves a questionable precedent for how the U.S. will deal with terrorist groups in the future, possibly even giving confidence to terrorists to take more prisoners.

A report by the New York Times gave the names of the five prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay, stating that they “were all high-level Taliban members … with prominent political or military careers dating back before the American invasion.”

Dodd feels that the prisoner swap disregards the effort put into capturing the five Taliban leaders by the military.

“I think that I can speak for the guys who I know who were in (Bergdahl’s) unit and the guys who were in that group that went looking for him. They don’t like him. They resent him,” Dodd said. “They don’t like that our government turned their back on those dudes that died and traded our enemy, which we sacrificed blood, treasure and sweat … and we just give them back for the guy that left us.”

Electrical engineering junior Chris Longoria wonders what kind of precedent this sets for the future.

“I feel like it’s war, so … in this case, it seems kind of weird to make an exchange of a prisoner for other prisoners. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” Longoria said, “I don’t know if that means then in the future … this is going to be an ongoing thing. I just don’t hear of these kind of cases often, so it makes you think, ‘Are you going to hear more of these cases? Are we just exchanging prisoners from here on out?’”

However, no matter what people’s opinions are, the deal is done and the U.S. must decide where to go from here. Whether the move is a reflection of the war-weary country changing its stance in the war on terror or just a one-time deal, the decision to trade one American life for five terrorists’ lives will undoubtedly have an impact on how the U.S. approaches similar situations — and how our enemies approach the U.S.

The war in Afghanistan has caused more than two thousand U.S. military deaths and it is important to weigh the worth of every human life lost — even those seemingly faceless lives — and do whatever possible to prevent the most loss of life. It is yet unclear what the best decision was in this obviously no-win situation, but we may find that we tipped the scales out of our favor and that saving one life rendered other lives lost, useless and put more in more danger.

Opinion columnist Eileen Holley is an English literature senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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