The nation's top military leaders offered their unanimous support for last month's return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban captivity in exchange for the release of five Taliban-affiliated detainees at Guantanamo Bay, rebutting critics who said the swap wasn't worth it, or that it would set a dangerous precedent.
Shortly after the prisoner swap, some Republicans warned that the U.S. had offered too much in exchange for Bergdahl, branded a deserter by some, and that the exchange would set a bad precedent of negotiating with terrorists. Others worried that the detainees released from Guantanamo might decide to take up arms against the U.S.
But in a series of letters released Thursday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the heads of all five military branches explained their support for the decision, underscoring the president's conviction that the U.S. simply doesn't leave soldiers on the battlefield.
"I balanced the risk of transferring the [Guantanamo] detainees with the importance of returning a U.S. soldier from enemy captivity," explained Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey. "I concluded the risk posed by the detainees' future activity would be less grave than breaking faith with our forces in combat."
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno seconded Dempsey's point, saying the recovery of American prisoners of war is "both a moral imperative and vital to keeping faith within our Army." He added that there was no viable plan to rescue Bergdahl, bolstering the administration's argument that the exchange was their last, best opportunity to secure Bergdahl's return.
The letters were released by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., who has voiced his support for the prisoner swap.
"Each of these military leaders emphasized a simple principle -- America does not leave its troops behind," Levin said in a statement. "The unanimous support of the Joint Chiefs for securing Sergeant Bergdahl's release is a powerful statement on the importance of that commitment. I give great weight to their views, and I believe it's important for the American people to hear them."