CAPITOL HILL — The service record of a U.S. Army sergeant freed by the Taliban has come under congressional scrutiny. Many Republican lawmakers, and some Democrats, continue to object to the prisoner exchange that freed five Taliban militants. A House panel heard emotionally charged testimony about Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s alleged desertion of his unit in Afghanistan, as well as a life reportedly lost searching for him.
One day after Bergdahl’s release from five years of captivity, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, went on U.S. television proclaiming that the sergeant had served “with honor and distinction.” A fellow soldier in Bergdahl’s unit, retired Specialist Cody Full, took issue with Rice, saying the sergeant intentionally left his post and appeared to have actually sought out the Taliban.
“The only thing you can count on in combat is the commitment of your fellow American. Knowing that someone you needed to trust deserted you in war and did so of his own free will is the ultimate betrayal,” said Full.
Full’s firsthand account has yet to be independently verified. The committee also heard from Andy Andrews, the father of a U.S. officer, Darryn Andrews, who was reported killed in a clash with militants while searching for Bergdahl.
“Bergdahl walked away, was not captured. And Darryn was killed while searching for him,” said Andrews.
Focus on service record
Obama has said that all U.S. service members deserve to be rescued, regardless of the circumstances of their capture.
During the hearing, no House members said Bergdahl was unworthy of freedom from the Taliban. Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said she would not have made the prisoner exchange, though, that Obama first mentioned as a possibility to lawmakers in 2011.
“I opposed the swap, not because I did not want to bring Bowe home," she said. "I opposed the swap because the proposal would have resulted in a huge coup for the Taliban, would have benefited them, jeopardized the security of our brave men and women in uniform, and compromised our national security.”
Those comments provoked a vigorous response from Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch, who accused Republicans of hypocrisy.
“We can have a debate over whether the price for Sergeant Bergdahl was too high," he said. "But we should also be reminded of the 532 Guantanamo Bay detainees who were transferred before this president came to office [under President George W. Bush]. Where was the outrage then?”
Deutch also criticized what he sees as a rush to judge Bergdahl’s service record before an exhaustive review promised by the Pentagon is conducted.