via ‘Was it worth it? Absolutely': Obama administration official defends Bergdahl trade despite charges
Bergdahl was accused of walking away from his post and putting his fellow soldiers in danger. The trade of hardened Taliban fighters for his freedom raised deep concerns on Capitol Hill that the administration struck an unbalanced and possibly illegal deal.
With the newly announced charges, Bergdahl could also face a dishonorable discharge, reduction in rank and forfeiture of all his pay if convicted. He is not in pretial confinement at Fort Sam Houston, a spokesman for U.S. Army Forces Command said.
The announcement of the charges marks a sharp turnaround for the administration’s narrative of Bergdahl’s service and release. After the swap last year, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Bergdahl served with “honor and distinction.”
But as Bergdahl faced criticism from fellow servicemembers for his actions, the administration faced heated complaints from Congress over the Taliban trade itself. “This fundamental shift in U.S. policy signals to terrorists around the world a greater incentive to take U.S. hostages,” said former Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., then the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Wednesday’s announcement only fueled those concerns.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., a member of the Armed Services Committee, was asked by reporters Wednesday whether the charges raised doubts about the initial trade of Bergdahl for the Taliban members.
“I would think that it would raise doubts in the mind of the average American if those doubts weren’t raised already,” Wicker said.
“This proves once again that the president’s political motivations for closing Guantanamo Bay are causing him to make reckless decisions and will put more American lives at risk,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said Wednesday in a statement.
Gen. Mark Milley, head of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, has been reviewing the massive case files and had a broad range of legal options, including various degrees of desertion charges. A major consideration was whether military officials would be able to prove that Bergdahl had no intention of returning to his unit.
Bergdahl disappeared from his base in the eastern Afghanistan province of Paktika on June 30, 2009. A private first class at the time, he had three days earlier emailed his parents expressing disillusionment with the war.
Bergdahl left a note in his tent that said he was leaving to start a new life and intended to renounce his citizenship, Fox News reported last year.
For the next five years, Bergdahl is believed to have been held by the Taliban and Pakistan’s infamous Haqqani network. In one of several hostage videos released during his captivity, he said he was captured when he fell behind a patrol, but fellow soldiers, outraged after the trade was made with the Taliban, accused him of deserting. Some asserted that American servicemembers’ lives were put at risk in the hunt for Bergdahl.
Bergdahl was freed on May 31, 2014, after the White House agreed to trade five high-value Taliban operatives held at Guantanamo Bay.
The trade was branded as illegal by lawmakers, who said they weren’t advised beforehand, It was also blasted by critics who said it violated America’s longstanding tradition of not negotiating with terrorists. There were also concerns – which would prove well-founded – that the Taliban members would return to the fight against the West.
Of the five — Mohammad Fazl, the former Taliban army chief of staff; Khairullah Khairkhwa, a Taliban intelligence official; Abdul Haq Wasiq, a former Taliban government official; and Norullah Noori and Mohammad Nabi Omari — at least three have attempted to reconnect with their old comrades, a source told Fox News.
Bergdhal was promoted to sergeant while in captivity, and had accrued more than $200,000 in back pay by the time he was freed.
The Obama administration’s incoming communications director said Wednesday the decision to trade Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban leaders last year was the right move, hours after he was charged with desertion.
“Was it worth it? Absolutely,” Jen Psaki told Megyn Kelly on “The Kelly File.” “We have a commitment to our men and women serving in the military, defending our national security every day, that we’re going to do everything to bring them home if we can, and that’s what we did in this case.”
A deserter who joined the enemy is not one of our men. These are:
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