Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s roommate at a U.S. Army outpost in Afghanistan got a congressional hearing yesterday for his campaign to portray the rescued soldier as a deserter unworthy of the sacrifices made to get him back.
“If Bergdahl hadn’t deserted us, then he would have never been held in captivity,” former Specialist Cody Full said in a statement submitted to two House Foreign Affairs subcommittees.
The hearing provided an official forum for former servicemen who say that Bergdahl should face desertion charges for walking off his base in 2009, leading to his capture by militants in eastern Afghanistan. It also offered fodder for a new line of attack by Republican lawmakers critical of President Barack Obama’s deal to trade five Taliban prisoners for Bergdahl’s freedom.
Until now, most lawmakers have concentrated their criticism on Obama’s failure to notify Congress in advance of the prisoner exchange and the danger that the freed Taliban may engage in terrorism.
At yesterday’s hearing, Republicans questioned justifying the trade under the military’s “leave no soldier behind” policy because of the assertions by several of those who served with Bergdahl that he walked off his base voluntarily.
“He was not left behind, he left his fellow soldiers behind,” Representative Ted Poe, a Texas Republican and chairman of the Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade subcommittee, said after the hearing. “It’s the responsibility of the United States to get all of our warfighters back home eventually. Including him. Now he needs to let the military deal with the accusations against him.”
Bergdahl, an Idaho man, is undergoing treatment and reorientation at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. The Defense Department this week assigned Major General Kenneth Dahl to investigate the circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance and capture.
“Our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said earlier this month.
Obama has said that how Bergdahl came to be captured has no bearing on whether he should have been rescued.
“The American people understand that this is somebody’s child,” the president said on June 5. “We don’t condition whether or not we make the effort to try and get them back.”
Full said yesterday that Bergdahl was at first a model soldier. That began to change in a combat zone in Afghanistan, where Full said Bergdahl told him that he could see himself “getting lost in these mountains.”
Also testifying was Andy Andrews, whose son, Second Lieutenant Darryn Andrews, was killed in Afghanistan. He was awarded a Silver Star for pushing two fellow soldiers out of the way of a rocket-propelled grenade that killed him.
Andrews said he was told by soldiers who served with Darryn that his son was killed while searching for Bergdahl.
Military officials have questioned the assertion that the search for Bergdahl led to the death of soldiers in a period when they were already engaged in frequent confrontations with Taliban forces.
“In the Army, in all of our reports, I have seen no evidence that directly links any American combat death to the rescue or finding or search of Sergeant Bergdahl, and we’ve all asked the question,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the House Armed Services Committee at its June 11 hearing.
The Bergdahl exchange also was the subject of a classified briefing provided yesterday by administration officials to the House Armed Services Committee, and afterward a statement by the panel’s Republican chairman said he was “even more concerned about the ramifications of this terrorist transfer.”
Representative Howard “Buck” McKeon of California said in his statement that “a rigorous investigation into this matter is essential.”
He said that “despite claims of a rushed operation, this transfer was months in the making -- months when Congress was intentionally left in the dark and possibly deliberately deceived.”
He also said he has “yet to see evidence that a direct threat to Sgt. Bergdhal’s life generated a sense of urgency that expedited the transfer.”
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