Maine’s congressional delegation and military veterans expressed mixed opinions Wednesday about President Obama’s controversial exchange of five senior Taliban commanders who were in custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for one American soldier, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who has the most experience with military affairs of any Maine lawmaker, said she is worried about the harm those commanders could inflict in the future.

Collins, who has been chairwoman of the Homeland Security Committee and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made her remarks after senators were briefed by four senior Obama administration officials Wednesday night on Capitol Hill.

In a prepared statement, Collins, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said, “There is no dispute in the intelligence community about how dangerous these Taliban detainees are. It is highly likely that they will return to the fight against our country after their year in Qatar, which is why I share concerns expressed by many members of both parties about the administration’s decision.

“While I believe we have a responsibility to bring our troops home safely, I’m not persuaded that this particular deal, at this time, was the only way to bring Sgt. Bergdahl home,” she said.

As part of the exchange, the accused terrorists will be required to spend one year in Qatar, a sovereign Arab emirate on the Arabian peninsula. Bergdahl’s family lives in Idaho.

Wednesday night’s closed-door Senate briefing was held amid criticism from both parties that the price for Bergdahl’s release was too high, considering the questions surrounding his disappearance. Some soldiers have suggested that Bergdahl deserted his post on June 30, 2009, before being captured by the Taliban.

An initial Army investigation showed that Bergdahl had written emails suggesting he was disillusioned with the war in Afghanistan and the Army’s tactics there.

A spokesman for Maine’s independent Sen. Angus King, who serves on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Armed Services Committee, said late Wednesday that King thought the briefing was a productive first step and he is encouraged by the beginning of an open dialogue between the White House and Congress.

Saturday’s exchange was made without notification to congressional leaders.

Earlier Wednesday, King released a statement:

“Leave no one behind is not a Hollywood catch phrase; it’s a fundamental American principle,” he said. “I don’t know all of the facts around the Bergdahl exchange yet, but what I do know is this: Last week there was a United States soldier in captivity, and today he is back in the care of the United States Army.

“As we take a closer look at the circumstances of this exchange, I hope that the facts, the law and the history are not eclipsed by speculation or partisan rhetoric. The American people, including those who serve in the armed forces, deserve more from us,” King said.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said in a statement issued Wednesday that Obama should have briefed congressional leaders before initiating the prisoner transfer, but much of the criticism is “motivated by politicians who will take any opportunity to attack a president they don’t like.”

“I’m glad we are bringing a U.S. soldier, who was a prisoner of war for five years, home, and although the exact circumstances of this soldier’s capture still aren’t clear, I’m going to reserve judgment on that until after the Army’s investigation is finished,” Pingree said.

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democratic candidate for governor, also said the administration should have briefed congressional leaders in advance, but politicizing the issue won’t move the nation forward in a productive way.

“I do believe the best place for Sgt. Bergdahl to be right now is in the care of the U.S. Army,” Michaud said in a prepared statement. “I look forward to more fully learning the facts of the matter over the coming days and weeks. We owe that to the brave men and women who put their lives on the line every single day for our country.”

Maine veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had differing views of the prisoner exchange.

Kurt Fegan, a Falmouth police officer who has been deployed overseas three times – the first two in Iraq and the third in eastern Afghanistan – was in Iraq when Bergdahl was captured.

That Bergdahl was held for five years by forces known to execute prisoners leads Fegan to conclude that he was helpful to the Taliban.

“Your initial reaction is, ‘Oh no, they’re going to cut his head off. … We didn’t think he had that long,” Fegan said.

He also questioned how many soldiers may have died while trying to capture the Taliban commanders that the Obama administration has set free.

“They’re not the average Taliban gunslinger. They were high-level Taliban. Where they belong is back in Guantanamo Bay,” Fegan said.

Sgt. First Class Peter Morrison of Bowdoin was stationed in Iraq in 2004 with the 133rd Engineer Battalion and now works full time for the Maine Army National Guard in Augusta.

He said, “We are grateful the soldier is back in American hands. We’re glad that the warrior ethos has been followed, that we should never leave a comrade behind.”

However, Morrison said, reports that Bergdahl left his post before he was captured are troubling.

“I do hope, in the process of reintegrating Bergdahl, they understand what the circumstances were of his disappearance and captivity,” he said.

Staff Writer David Hench contributed to this report.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.