Congress, Bergdahl, and the Age-Old Culture War Over Freeing POWs

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
June 3 2014 2:50 PM

Congress, Bergdahl, and the Age-Old Culture War Over Freeing POWs

In this undated image provided by the U.S. Army, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl poses in front of an American flag.

Photo by U.S. Army via Getty Images

The Bergdahl quagmire spreads, given new toxicity by the terrain in Washington. Over the course of the day, the leaders of the House and Senate intel committees have crab-walked away from the White House’s decision and told reporters that they were not—as is ordinary, and required—consulted before it was made.

On Morning Joe, MSNBC’s redoubt of disappointment with the Obama White House, House intel Chairman Mike Rogers said that he had not been consulted on a possible Bergdahl trade since 2011. At that time, he and his peers agreed not to do it.

“In a bipartisan way, they said, this is not a great idea,” Rogers said. “That's the last time we really heard from the administration.”


Hours later, Senate intel Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said basically the same thing. “There were very strong views and they were virtually unanimous against the trade,” she told the Hill’s Alex Bolton. “I certainly want to know more about whether this man was a deserter.” She hadn’t been consulted this year; she’d merely gotten a call apologizing for the decision being made without her input.

The deal has also been opposed, post facto, by Sen. John McCain. He wasn’t supposed to be consulted, necessarily. But he’s got a particular credibility on POWs, for obvious reasons. In 1973 McCain was freed from the “Hanoi Hilton” as part of the Nixon administration’s “Operation Homecoming” negotiations. In the years since, he has reserved special venom for fellow POWs who, in his words, “lost faith” during imprisonment.

The ugliness has lasted for 40 years. McCain, in his memoir, accused (but did not name) fellow POW Edison Miller of making anti-war, anti-American confessions under pressure of torture, and receiving better treatment as a result. Miller has always denied that last part; he’s insisted that his criticism of the war was deeply felt. And over the years, he’s gone to court (and won) against fellow veterans who claim that his criticism of the war was meant as treason and as propaganda.

It’s a largely forgotten story, but it resonates today. Many conservatives, some who’d always wanted Bergdahl free, now look at the circumstances of his capture and the statements attributed to him and say, basically, that he wasn’t worth this deal. They’re now echoed by members of both parties who said they were queasy about freeing Bergdahl, and thus were ignored.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 



Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Amazon Is Launching a Serious Run at Apple and Samsung


Slim Pickings at the Network TV Bazaar

Three talented actresses in three terrible shows.


More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

We Could Fix Climate Change for Free. Now There’s Just One Thing Holding Us Back.

  News & Politics
Sept. 17 2014 7:03 PM Once Again, a Climate Policy Hearing Descends Into Absurdity
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Sept. 17 2014 4:49 PM Schooling the Supreme Court on Rap Music Is it art or a true threat of violence?
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?