Bergdahl faces desertion probe, Obama defends swap

Bergdahl faces desertion probe, Obama defends swap

Credit: Getty Images

UNDATED - In this undated image provided by the U.S. Army, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl poses in front of an American flag. U.S. officials say Bergdahl, the only American soldier held prisoner in Afghanistan, was exchanged for five Taliban commanders being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to published reports. Bergdahl is in stable condition at a Berlin hospital, according to the reports. (Photo by U.S. Army via Getty Images)

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by NBC News

kgw.com

Posted on June 3, 2014 at 6:54 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 3 at 12:30 PM

Poll:
As some question circumstances of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's disappearance, do you think he's a:

President Barack Obama on Tuesday defended his decision to swap five Taliban militants for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who apparently walked away from his unit, even as the military promised an inquiry into whether the soldier deserted.

Obama cited a “sacred” obligation not to leave American soldiers behind. Speaking in Poland, he also expressed confidence that the United States could still go after the militants if they pose a future threat to national security.

“Regardless of the circumstances, whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity,” told reporters in Warsaw. “We don’t condition that.”

Republicans in Congress and former members of Bergdahl’s platoon have expressed outrage at the swap and at depictions of Bergdahl, the only American prisoner of war in Afghanistan, as a hero.

Watch the NBC report on Obama and Bergdahl

American military officials have told NBC News that Bergdahl, before his capture by the Taliban in June 2009, walked away from his unit without his weapon. He was handed over in exchange for five militants held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Army is preparing a full, high-level inquiry into the circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance and his personal conduct, NBC News learned Tuesday. It will also investigate the circumstances that led to the deaths of six soldiers during the search for Bergdahl.

The inquiry would determine whether a formal investigation into possible criminal charges against Bergdahl is warranted. If Bergdahl is found guilty of misconduct, the options for punishment would range from administrative disciplinary action to a court-martial.

Army officials told NBC News that the priority is to get Bergdahl back to full health and reunited with his family.

Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin E. Dempsey posted on his Facebook page that Bergdahl "is innoncent until proven guilty . . . meantime we will continue to care for him and his family."

"In response to those of you interested in my personal judgments about the recovery of SGT Bowe Bergdahl, the questions about this particular soldier’s conduct are separate from our effort to recover ANY U.S. service member in enemy captivity. This was likely the last, best opportunity to free him. As for the circumstances of his capture, when he is able to provide them, we’ll learn the facts. Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty. Our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred. In the meantime, we will continue to care for him and his family. Finally, I want to thank those who for almost five years worked to find him, prepared to rescue him, and ultimately put themselves at risk to recover him."

Sgt. Josh Korder, who served in Bergdahl’s platoon, told TODAY that Bergdahl became disillusioned with combat and “just wanted to go on an adventure and walk the mountains of Afghanistan and not have anybody to answer to.”

Korder has the names of three of his six fallen comrades tattooed on his back.

“We all served together, and we were all in it together over there, and he broke that bond by leaving us,” he said. Speaking of the militants, he said, “You’re just going to let these guys go for somebody who you’re already saying you know walked away. That’s just not right.”

Republicans in Congress and former members of Bergdahl’s platoon have expressed outrage at the swap and at depictions of Bergdahl, the only American prisoner of war in Afghanistan, as a hero.

American military officials have told NBC News that Bergdahl, before his capture by the Taliban in June 2009, walked away from his unit without his weapon. He was handed over in exchange for five militants held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Army is preparing a full, high-level inquiry into the circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance and his personal conduct, NBC News learned Tuesday. It will also investigate the circumstances that led to the deaths of six soldiers during the search for Bergdahl.

The inquiry would determine whether a formal investigation into possible criminal charges against Bergdahl is warranted. If Bergdahl is found guilty of misconduct, the options for punishment would range from administrative disciplinary action to a court-martial.

Army officials told NBC News that the priority is to get Bergdahl back to full health and reunited with his family.

Sgt. Josh Korder, who served in Bergdahl’s platoon, told TODAY that Bergdahl became disillusioned with combat and “just wanted to go on an adventure and walk the mountains of Afghanistan and not have anybody to answer to.”

Korder has the names of three of his six fallen comrades tattooed on his back.

“We all served together, and we were all in it together over there, and he broke that bond by leaving us,” he said. Speaking of the militants, he said, “You’re just going to let these guys go for somebody who you’re already saying you know walked away. That’s just not right.”

Congressional Republicans have said that Obama skirted the law by failing to give Congress 30 days’ notice before releasing a prisoner from Guantanamo. The five, all high-level Taliban militants, were sent to Qatar.

Administration officials, including both the president and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, have said that they seized a short window to act because Bergdahl’s health was deteriorating.

Obama also said Tuesday in Poland that Congress had been consulted “for some time” about a possible prisoner exchange.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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