President Obama said Thursday that he will “make no apologies” for trading five Taliban detainees for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, defiantly pushing back against critics of the decision by referring to Bergdahl as a “prisoner of war” and as “somebody’s child” who is now headed back into the arms of his family.
“This is not a political football,” Obama said. “You have a couple of parents whose kid volunteered to fight in a distant land who they hadn’t seen in five years and weren’t sure whether they’d ever see again.
“And as commander-in-chief of the United States armed forces, I am responsible for those kids.... I make absolutely no apologies for making sure that we get back a young man to his parents and that the American people understand that this is somebody’s child.”
As Obama has been in Europe meeting with allies for the last three days, the story about Bergdahl has transformed rapidly into a discussion about whether it was worth releasing Taliban fighters in exchange for a soldier who appears to have walked away from his unit voluntarily.
The question of whether to call Bergdahl a prisoner of war is becoming one point of contention, as critics question whether it’s too sympathetic a term. After avoiding the use of it during Bergdahl’s captivity, though, administration officials have embraced it in the days since his Saturday release.
One top Obama advisor said late Thursday that, even though it isn’t technically the accurate term, it is correct in a functional sense.
In using the phrase during a Thursday press conference alongside the British prime minister, Obama sidestepped the legal question of whether a detained combatant in an armed conflict qualifies as a POW even if there hasn’t been a formal declaration of war.
Instead, he doubled down on what the White House sees as the more significant point -- that Bergdahl was a member of the U.S. armed forces being held against his will in a conflict zone, and that the country had an obligation to do whatever it could to get him back.
“I’m never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington,” Obama said. “That’s par for the course. But I’ll repeat what I said two days ago. We have a basic principle. We do not leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind.
“We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated and we were deeply concerned about,” he said. “We saw an opportunity and we seized it. And I make no apologies for that.”