Tags: Afghanistan | ISIS/Islamic State | War on Terrorism | Bowe Bergdahl | Michael Hayden | standards | Taliban

Gen. Hayden: Bergdahl Charges Reinforce Military Conduct Standards

By    |   Wednesday, 25 March 2015 08:46 PM

The Army's decision Wednesday to charge Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with desertion and misbehavior over his capture by the Taliban "reinforces the reality and the belief that the standards of behavior that we expect of our military members are still the standards we expect," retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden tells Newsmax.

"You've got tens of thousands of other young men and women who go there and don't do what he did," said Hayden, who directed both the CIA and the National Security Agency.

"You can think on a human level about a troubled young man and all of those thoughts — but it's a betrayal of those people who went there and did their duty if this kind of action did not have consequences."

Former House Intelligence Chairman Pete Hoekstra said the charges were "all about maintaining the discipline, the morale and the integrity of the forces."

"You're always disappointed that a U.S. military person would engage in those activities — and you're glad that the process is working," Hoekstra told Newsmax. "A lot of people have been frustrated that it has taken so long, but the process appears to be working."

Bergdahl, 28, was formally charged with desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty and misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place, an Army spokesman announced at Fort Bragg, N.C.

The desertion charge carries a maximum prison term of five years, while the misbehavior count has a maximum penalty of life in prison. The charges also carry a number of other potential punishments, including a dishonorable discharge, reduction in rank to private, and forfeiture of all pay.

The charges followed a formal review of the case by Gen. Mark Milley, head of the U.S. Army Forces Command.

Bergdahl's parents, who live in Hailey, Idaho, declined to comment on the Army's decision.

His attorney, Eugene Fidell of the Yale Law School, said the Army had scheduled an Article 32 investigation hearing on April 22 to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to proceed with a court-martial.

The Army said the investigation, similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding, would take place at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Bergdahl works in an administrative positon at the base.

Fidell later released a statement that included his client's description of some of what the Taliban did to him while he was in captivity:

"I was kept in constant isolation for the entire five years, with little to no understanding of time … [was] told I was going to be executed … told I would have my ears and nose cut off."

The statement was first reported by CNN.

Bergdahl was released from Taliban custody last summer in a controversial swap approved by President Barack Obama for five top Taliban leaders being held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Known as the "Taliban 5," the prisoners were transferred to Qatar, where they were required to remain for a year. Their travel bans expire on June 1.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday that he had evidence that at least one former detainee has touched base with a group affiliated with the Afghan Taliban.

Bergdahl disappeared on June 30, 2009, from Combat Outpost Mest-Lalak in Paktika Province in eastern Afghanistan, and was soon captured by the Taliban. He left the outpost early one morning after guard duty, leaving behind his gun, ammunition and body armor.

Six members of his platoon were killed during searches in the days and weeks after Bergdahl disappeared.

In an announcement in the Rose Garden last May, Obama hailed Bergdahl's release with his parents. The president said that Qatar had "given us assurances that it will put in place measures to protect our national security" regarding the freed Taliban prisoners.

But both Republicans and Democrats immediately slammed the exchange because the White House had not given Congress 30 days' notice before the transfer of the Guantanamo prisoners, as required by law.

The Government Accountability Office determined last August that the Obama administration had violated the law in not giving Congress sufficient notice.

In addition, some of Bergdahl's former Army comrades have come forward to say they believed he deserted his post.

Army Sgt. Evan Buetow, who has spoken extensively with Newsmax TV on the issue, said Wednesday that Bergdahl had been treated fairly by the military and that he needed "to answer for what he did."

"He put all of our lives in danger," said Buetow, the team leader who had supervised Bergdahl in Afghanistan. "Men from our company died, when I don't believe they would have if he wouldn't have left."

Republicans said Wednesday that the charges cast further doubts about Obama's decision.

"Every American is innocent until proven guilty, and we all wanted to bring Sgt. Bergdahl home," said House Speaker John Boehner. "But my chief concern remains President Obama's decision to release five hardened terrorists, with no guarantees that they won't return to the battlefield.

"I believe it made Americans less safe," Boehner said. "This is another example of President Obama ignoring our long-established foreign policy priorities, the bipartisan concerns of Congress, and the American people."

Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the Army's charges "an important step in the military justice process towards determining the accountability of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl."

McCain spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

California Rep. Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said that "there's still the decision to trade five Taliban detainees for a deserter, when there were in fact other options on the table."

"We're aware of those options, and frankly, the White House made a big mistake," Hunter said. "And tying Bergdahl to an end-of-war effort was no less an error in judgment."

The Army's process "has taken way too long already," Hunter said, adding that "it's evident the administration screwed this up and nothing exists to justify the swap."

Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the Islamic State "upped their demands" for U.S. aid worker Kayla Mueller after the Taliban releases.

Mueller, 26, of Prescott, Arizona, was captured in August 2013, and her murder by the terrorist group was confirmed last month.

"The singular effect of this ghastly exchange was to put American lives around the world at greater risk," Salmon said.

Graham, who serves on the Senate panel with McCain, told CNN that "I have nothing but disgust for this deal."

"Letting these five terrorists leaders go undermined the war effort, put our nation at risk," Graham told Wolf Blitzer. "The war is not over. They are still fighting in Afghanistan."

Graham said that at least one of the former prisoners had already been in touch with the Haqqani network, one of the deadliest threats to U.S. troops in the Afghan war.

"These people are going to go back to the fight," Graham said. "What do you tell a family member that may be killed by one of these guys down the road?"

Idaho Sen. James Risch, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the Bergdahl case now rested with the Army — "and that's exactly where it belongs, not with politicians."

"The Uniform Code of Military Justice encompasses legal procedures, rules of evidence, and standards for handling these matters," Risch said. "I am confident the Army's skilled legal corps will continue to handle this matter appropriately."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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The Army's decision Wednesday to charge Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with desertion and misbehavior over his capture by the Taliban "reinforces the reality and the belief that the standards of behavior that we expect of our military members are still . . .
Bowe Bergdahl, Michael Hayden, standards, Taliban
Wednesday, 25 March 2015 08:46 PM
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