The reason Bowe Bergdahl’s recovery has become such a controversy is because of a climate of distrust the Obama administration has cultivated in light of a multitude of previous scandals, the clear effort to portray the Bergdahl story as a success when it is clearly not, and the US Military’s desperation to avoid embarrassment. The betrayal of multiple principles further stokes the coals of discontent and causes cognitive dissonance in people who hold those principles, values and beliefs. If we don’t enforce and protect those ideas and expectations it would imply they are of no value. Let’s take a few minutes to examine several of the issues surrounding the Bergdahl situation.

There is little doubt that PFC Bergdahl deserted on June 30, 2009. There was no patrol on which he fell back, as he claimed in a video. Later reports from Afghans stated that Bergdahl asked where he could find the Taliban. Daily firsthand accounts by troops who were present and served with Bergdahl fill in the gaps of the ongoing investigation. The classified 2010 15-6 investigation is said to contain “incontrovertible” evidence that Bergdahl deserted.

What is open source is the superhuman effort by our forces in theatre to recover him. Forces were surged into the area to keep the Taliban from moving Bergdahl to Pakistan. At least six Americans were killed conducting operations to find Bergdahl. The Combat Outpost (COP) at Camp Keating had aircraft that were dedicated to shutting the COP down, but which were instead retasked to support the effort to find Bergdahl, delaying its planned closure. The COP was attacked by hundreds of Taliban. Eight Americans were killed and 27 wounded in a battle so fierce that two Medals of Honor were awarded (Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha and Staff Sgt. Ty Carter), something that had not happened since Mogadishu.

Last Saturday, Sergeant Bergdahl was traded for five high-level Taliban operatives held at Gitmo. This was the culmination of years of attempts to secure Bergdahl’s release. One of the first issues of contention over Bergdahl’s release was conflicting characterizations of the event as “negotiating with terrorists” vs. a “prisoner transfer.” Technically, it’s both, but there is substantial hyperbole on each side.

We’ve had a long standing prohibition against negotiating with terrorists, and for good cause. It mitigates the stress of knuckling under to an enemy who would blackmail our nation. Negotiation with terrorists also gives them and their cause a level of credibility. We shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists, and stating it was a third party doing the negotiation is a canard.

On the other hand, we’ve been at war for quite a while with the Taliban and automatically grant them many of the accords afforded a uniformed enemy. Few know that, according to international law, we could put mechanisms in place that could result in the relatively quick execution of captured non-uniformed Taliban as saboteurs or spies. We were also instrumental in facilitating the Taliban opening a diplomatic office in a Doha, though the office was subsequently closed when the Taliban made much of the propaganda coup. By affording the Taliban many of the rights we give a uniformed enemy, and helping them establish a diplomatic office, we undermined their technical classification as terrorists. Such is the danger of behaving as a civilized and reasonable nation.

The US has conducted prisoner transfer since the founding of our nation, but those transfers were for like numbers and grades of personnel, often for grievously wounded personnel who could not return to the fight or were prohibited from doing so for the duration of the conflict. The lopsided trade of five Taliban members who have trained, organized, planned and led hundreds for a soldier responsible for no one but himself provides the enemy with the capability to do much more harm against the US than what we could respond with by putting SGT Bergdahl back on the line.

More disturbingly, it creates further motivation for the enemy to conduct operations to capture Americans (or their bodies) in return for a lopsided gain in fighting strength to be negotiated later. One has to look no further than the Israeli example where terror groups almost routinely conduct operations to capture Israeli troops, which often result in IDF deaths. A secondary effect is that it reinforces a belief among the enemy where the capture or death of one American is worth a large number of enemy dead. If one is truly interested in defeating an enemy, it behooves one to not help the enemy make sense of the losses they receive resisting you. The highly unequal “prisoner trade” we engaged in strains the definition of the word “trade.”