Fellow soldiers criticize Bergdahl as ‘deserter’.
Since the news broke over the weekend regarding the recovery of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five detainees held at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, there have been mixed reactions from the public. Many are obviously very critical of the decision to exchange what are now known to be some pretty bad guys.
But there is also much discussion about the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s initial disappearance, much of which has been unconfirmed and unclear over the years.
News reports are now surfacing that offer accounts from soldiers who claim to have served with Bergdahl.
The sense of pride expressed by officials of the Obama administration at the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is not shared by many of those who served with him, veterans and soldiers who call him a deserter whose “selfish act” ended up costing the lives of better men.
“I was pissed off then, and I am even more so now with everything going on,” said former Sgt. Matt Vierkant, a member of Bergdahl’s platoon when he went missing on June 30, 2009. “Bowe Bergdahl deserted during a time of war, and his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him.”
Vierkant said Bergdahl needs to not only acknowledge his actions publicly but face a military trial for desertion under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
A reporter asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Sunday whether Bergdahl had left his post without permission or deserted — and, if so, whether he would be punished. Hagel didn’t answer directly. “Our first priority is assuring his well-being and his health and getting him reunited with his family,” he said. “Other circumstances that may develop and questions, those will be dealt with later.”
Following his release from five years of captivity in Afghanistan on Saturday, Bergdahl was transferred to a military hospital in Germany.
A senior Defense official said Bergdahl’s “reintegration process” will include “time for him to tell his story, decompress, and to reconnect with his family through telephone calls and video conferences.”
Said Bergdahl’s former squad leader, Greg Leatherman: “I’m pleased to see him returned safely. From experience, I hope that he receives adequate reintegration counseling. I believe that an investigation should take place as soon as health care professionals deem him fit to endure one.”
[Read additional comments from other soldiers in the full CNN article.]
Video report below from CNN.
Some of Bergdahl’s fellow troops reportedly signed nondisclosure agreements that would prohibit them from sharing information about Bergdahl’s disappearance or subsequent recovery efforts, but were willing to dismiss that agreement, according to CNN.
Many of Bergdahl’s fellow troops — from the seven or so who knew him best in his squad to the larger group that made up the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division — told CNN that they signed nondisclosure agreements agreeing to never share any information about Bergdahl’s disappearance and the efforts to recapture him. Some were willing to dismiss that document in hopes that the truth would come out about a soldier who they now fear is being hailed as a hero, while the men who lost their lives looking for him are ignored.
There have also been reports from some of these soldiers that attacks in the area had increased during the time of the search for Bergdahl, and CNN has published a list of several soldiers who reportedly died during various related search efforts. An article from TIME provides additional details on those soldiers and the circumstances of their deaths.
When asked by a reporter during the White House press briefing Monday whether or not it has been determined that Bergdahl was a deserter, press secretary Jay Carney indicated that officials would continue to evaluate “all of the circumstances surrounding [Bergdahl’s] initial detention and his captivity.”
The first and foremost thing that we have to recognize here is that Sgt. Bergdahl was in captivity for five years, held against his will, and it was absolutely the right thing to do, consistent with our tradition in the United States to secure his return. The Defense Department obviously has been and will continue to be the lead in terms of evaluating all of the circumstances surrounding his initial detention and his captivity. And that process continues, obviously directly with Sgt. Bergdahl now that he is in U.S. care. But I would point you again to what Chairman Dempsey said, and what Secretary of Defense Hagel said, and what so many others have said about the ethos that we here in the United States abide by when it comes to men and women who are taken prisoner during armed conflicts, and the history of this government taking actions to secure the return of our POWs is very full.
[Video clip via National Review]
In a separate press briefing Monday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined to characterize Bergdahl as a deserter, according to the Washington Free Beacon. “We would characterize him as a member of the military who was detained while in combat,” Psaki said.
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