WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) chastised Republicans Wednesday for their response to the release of Sgt. Bowe Berdahl, saying they were simply trying to score political points against President Barack Obama.
"It's clear they're worried his release could be seen as a victory for President Obama," said Reid on the Senate floor Wednesday morning. "As the president said, this is not a victory for him. It is a victory for the United States military and our country. Let me put that notion to rest then. It is not a victory for President Obama. it is a victory for our soldiers, their families, and our great country."
On Saturday, Obama announced the release of Bergdahl, America's only known prisoner of war in Afghanistan. Republicans have been sharply critical of the fact that the United States, in return, is releasing five former members of the Taliban who were being held at Guantanamo Bay.
Previously, many of those same critics were pressing the Obama administration to pull out all the stops to rescue Bergdahl. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said in May she wanted "the Department of Defense to do all it can to find Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl and bring him home safely." Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said it was important to "make every effort" to bring Bergdahl home.
But apparently, some Republicans wanted the administration to do everything it could do short of swapping prisoners, which is a strategy commonly used by countries like Israel.
Ayotte's office, for example, said Tuesday that the senator has consistently backed permanent limits on the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo to foreign countries.
In February, CNN specifically asked Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) if he would support swapping the five detainees in return for Bergdahl.
"I would be inclined to support such a thing depending on a lot of the details," McCain said at the time.
But Tuesday night on CNN, McCain said he didn't like what the Obama administration ended up doing because the detainees would be sent "to Qatar, of all places, where they will be free to roam including to the Taliban headquarters there in Qatar, and then after a year will be allowed to go back into the fight in Afghanistan."
"Opponents of President Obama have seized upon the release of an American prisoner of war -- that's what he was -- using what should be a moment of unity and celebration for our nation as a chance to play political games," Reid said Wednesday. "The safe return of an American soldier should not be used for political points. When a man or woman puts on the uniform as a United States serviceman, they have America's uncompromising support."
Questions have lingered about the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl's initial disappearance, with some of his fellow soldiers saying he was a "deserter" because he walked away from the base.
Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that the Army may pursue an investigation that could lead to desertion charges against Bergdahl. But until that time, he added, Bergdahl is "innocent until proven guilty."
Reid added Wednesday that even if Bergdahl did "violate his sworn oath," he should not have been left as a prisoner of war.
"If he's done something wrong, military justice will step in and take care of that violation -- if in fact there was one. I don't know," he said. "But certainly that's a better approach than having the Taliban do it. I will choose the justice system of the United States Army -- American justice -- every time. We've seen the brutality of the Taliban."