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Soldier's release triggers debate over prisoner swap

Denver Post wire reports

POSTED:   06/02/2014 12:01:00 AM MDT

WASHINGTON — Five years a captive from the Afghanistan war, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is back in American hands, freed for five Guantanamo terrorism detainees in a swap stirring sharp debate in Washington over whether the U.S. should have negotiated with the Taliban over prisoners.

U.S. officials said Sunday that Bergdahl's health and safety appeared in jeopardy, prompting rapid action to secure his release. Republicans said the deal could place U.S. troops in danger, especially if the freed detainees return to the fight — one called it "shocking." Arizona Sen. John McCain said of the five detainees, "These are the hardest of the hard core."

Separately, some inside the military raised questions about the cost associated with rescuing Bergdahl, who walked off his base and away from his unit five years ago after becoming disillusioned with the war effort.

Visiting troops in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stepped forward at Bagram Air Field to thank the special operations forces who retrieved Bergdahl, who officials said was the only American prisoner of war still held by insurgents in that conflict. Gen. Joseph Dunford spoke of the excitement that spread through U.S. ranks when the sergeant's release was confirmed. "You almost got choked up," he said. "It was pretty extraordinary."

Hagel was met with silence when he told troops in a Bagram hangar: "This is a happy day. We got one of our own back." It was unclear whether the absence of cheers and applause came from a reluctance to display emotion in front of the Pentagon chief or from any doubts among the troops about Bergdahl.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Sunday that the White House had received a "series of very specific assurances" from the government of Qatar about its role in keeping the released prisoners in the Persian Gulf state.

"Have we just put a price on other U.S. soldiers?" asked Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. "What does this tell terrorists, that if you capture a U.S. soldier, you can trade that soldier for five terrorists?"

Separately, House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said the White House made a mistake by deciding to "negotiate with terrorists" for the release of prisoners.

"This fundamental shift in U.S. policy signals to terrorists around the world a greater incentive to take U.S. hostages," Rogers said late Saturday. He has called for a full Intelligence Committee review of the matter. On Sunday, House Armed Services Committee chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., said his panel will hold hearings on the prisoner exchange.



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