While Idahoans cheered the news Saturday that U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl had been freed in a precedent-setting prisoner of war swap with the Taliban, some of the nation's top Republicans took the opportunity to use the event to score political points.
Residents of Hailey, who claim Bergdahl as one of their own, were anxious to put up signs Saturday that read, "Bowe is Free at Last!" alongside the miles of yellow ribbons that had been draped throughout the Wood River Valley since June 2009, when Bergdahl went missing near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. But those yellow ribbons will need to stay up a couple of more weeks. Bergdahl was flown from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany to tend to his immediate medical needs. He'll then be flown to a U.S. military base in San Antonio, Texas, where he'll undergo a psychological review. Pentagon officials say they're also anticipating a lengthy conversation with Bergdahl over his ordeal.
Speaking from Afghanistan early Sunday morning, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the U.S. dialed up efforts to free Bergdahl due to the fact that Bergdahl's health was deteriorating and that his life might have been in jeopardy.
"Our first priority is assuring his well-being and his health and getting him reunited with his family," said Hagel. "Other circumstances that may develop and questions — those will be dealt with later."
Idaho's congressional delegation, all Republican, cheered the news, with U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo saying, "Our prayers have been answered," and U.S. Sen. Jim Risch saying, "I can only imagine the joy and relief that Bowe and his family are feeling at this moment." Rep. Raul Labrador added that he "was thrilled," and Rep. Mike Simpson said, "I couldn't be more pleased."
But other Republicans, specifically leadership from the House and Senate armed services committees, went as far as claiming President Barack Obama had broken the law while crafting the POW swap.
"America has maintained a prohibition on negotiating with terrorists for good reason," Rep. Howard McKeon and Sen. James Inhofe said in a joint statement. "In executing this transfer, the president also clearly violated laws which require him to notify Congress 30 days before any transfer of terrorists from Guantanamo Bay and to explain how the threat posed by such terrorists has been substantially mitigated."
Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House intelligence committee, added that he was "extremely troubled" that the U.S. had negotiated with terrorists.
"This fundamental shift in U.S. policy signals to terrorists around the world a greater incentive to take U.S. hostages. I believe this decision will threaten the lives of American soldiers for years to come."
And Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz said this morning on ABC's This Week that he agreed that the deal was "very disturbing."
"How many soldiers lost their lives to capture those Taliban prisoners that we just released?" asked the senator, who is widely believed to be considering his own run for the White House. "I do not think that the way to deal with terrorists is releasing other violent terrorists. It's not the only way. We can go in and use military force as needed to rescue our fallen compatriots. Can you imagine what (Bergdahl) would say to his fallen comrades who lost their lives to stop these people who were responsible, either directly or indirectly, for threatening or taking innocent U.S. civilian lives?"
The five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo who were selected to be swapped for Bergdahl include two senior militant commanders said to be linked to operations that killed American and allied troops, as well as implicated in murdering thousands of Shiites in Afghanistan, according to The New York Times.