June 18th, 2014
08:02 PM ET
5 months ago

Bergdahl deal scrutinized at congressional hearing

(CNN) - Emotions ran high Wednesday at a hearing on Capitol Hill to examine the circumstances surrounding Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's capture by the Taliban in 2009 and the deal that led to his release in late May.

Bergdahl was captured after he walked off his base in Afghanistan's Paktika province, and several of his former platoon-mates have since accused Bergdahl of desertion and endangering the lives of his comrades.

Spc. Cody Full, who was Bergdahl's roommate before their deployment and served closely with him at the base, said at the hearing that he has no doubt Bergdahl deserted and that the desertion was pre-meditated.

"Knowing that someone you needed to trust deserted you in war and did so on his own free will is the ultimate betrayal," Full told members of two subcommittees of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mike Waltz, who commanded an Army Special Forces unit in eastern Afghanistan when Bergdahl was captured, told subcommittee members that all military resources in that part of the country were redirected to search for Bergdahl and that the Taliban capitalized on that effort to launch attacks.

"They began feeding false information into our informant network in order to lure our forces into a trap," Waltz said.

Waltz, who is now a senior national security fellow with the New America Foundation, added that if "someone was killed during that specific amount of time, unless they tripped and hit their head on the way to the mess hall, they were out looking for Sgt. Bergdahl."

Members of Bergdahl's former platoon have said at least six soldiers were killed searching for him, including 2nd Lt. Darryn Andrews, whose father Andy Andrews also testified at Wednesday's hearing.

"Exactly why did my son die?" Andrews asked. "Tell me one more time because I don't know what we've accomplished."

Darryn Andrews was killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack while his unit was attempting to recover a disabled vehicle. Another soldier, Pfc. Matthew Martinek, was also killed in the attack. Andrews was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions in that attack, which are credited with having saved the lives of several fellow soldiers.

The military told Andrews' parents their son was killed searching for a high-ranking Taliban commander. Andy Andrews insists "Bergdahl was never mentioned."

But since the POW's release, he said, six soldiers have approached the family with the revelation their son was actually searching for Bergdahl when he died.

The military has not confirmed this version of events, and at a hearing last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he had seen "no evidence that directly links any American combat death to the rescue or finding or search of Sergeant Bergdahl."

Bergdahl was freed in exchange for five Taliban leaders previously held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Administration officials have defended that deal despite criticisms that the exchange was lopsided and that Congress was not consulted.

Last week, the Army appointed a two-star general to investigate the circumstances behind Bergdahl's capture. Public accounts have varied widely, from those saying he walked away from the outpost to claims he was taken from a latrine.

At Wednesday's hearing, members on both sides of the aisle accused the other side of politicizing the case.

Democrat Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida accused his Republican colleagues of flip-flopping on the issue.

"Many members of Congress who are now saying they oppose this deal supported the very idea of a prisoner exchange and were urging the administration to do more" to secure Bergdahl's release, Deutch said.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, urged caution to those attacking Bergdahl's record.

"This is about somebody's service," said Connolly, "and we should withhold judgment on the quality and nature of that service until the facts are known."

"The benefit of the doubt belongs to Mr. Bergdahl," Connolly added.

President Obama urged the same restraint earlier this month, when he told reporters he makes "absolutely no apologies" for authorizing the exchange.

"We have a basic principle," he said. "We do not leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind."

Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis, however, said the administration is touting Bergdahl as a hero "to divert the public's attention from the price that we paid," referring to the five released Taliban detainees.

He and others have criticized the President for hosting Bergdahl's parents at the White House, and for comments made by members of his administration celebrating Bergdahl's release.

In particular, National Security Adviser Susan Rice has come under fire for saying that Sgt. Bergdahl served "with honor and distinction."

Full addressed that comment directly on Wednesday.

"Bowe Bergdahl should not be characterized as having served with 'honor and distinction,'" said Full, who said that he was motivated to speak out because he was offended by the "hero's welcome" given to Bergdahl, which he said was not extended to those who died searching for him.

In perhaps the most poignant moment of the hearing, Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, asked Andy Andrews whether, given the option, he would be willing to trade five senior Taliban leaders to have his son back.

"If my son had been a deserter, then no," Andrews said. "Absolutely not."

"But my son was a man of honor," he continued, fighting back tears, "and I would do almost anything."


Filed under: Afghanistan • Capitol Hill
soundoff (148 Responses)
  1. Anonymous

    God bless

    June 19, 2014 12:30 am at 12:30 am |
  2. Jim

    Sir your son died because he joined the military. Period!

    June 19, 2014 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  3. Jay Redd

    Chuck "Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" Hagel lying through his teeth "at a hearing last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he had seen "no evidence that directly links any American combat death to the rescue or finding or search of Sergeant Bergdahl."
    Hagel is a traitor to the uniform he wears.

    June 19, 2014 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  4. Jim

    SPF Full, you're an embarrassment. You don't have any facts just feelings. You're a disgrace, and you're ignorant rant about you're clear understanding that there was a plan but you didn't know what it is makes you sound like a fool.

    June 19, 2014 12:42 am at 12:42 am |
  5. MaryM

    So nice of these people to not wait for Bergdahl so he could speak for himself. Sounds like they are trying to cya before Bergdahl can defend himself. There is certainly some question as to the behavior of the platoon before Bergdahl was captured.

    June 19, 2014 12:45 am at 12:45 am |
  6. Geoff

    We don't know the full story yet. We need to let Bergdahl tell his side of the story.

    June 19, 2014 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
  7. peeplometer

    Don't we need to hear from Bergdahl?

    June 19, 2014 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
  8. Jim

    Shameful of the congressmen to use this hearing as a platform to disparage the other side. Come on. It's pretty clear that Bergdahl deserted his post and possibly collaborated with the enemy – a betrayal of his country. Sure, he served some hard time within those five years, but his sentence should still be a DD and life at Leavenworth.

    June 19, 2014 12:57 am at 12:57 am |
  9. Chaos

    " if "someone was killed during that specific amount of time, unless they tripped and hit their head on the way to the mess hall, they were out looking for Sgt. Bergdahl."

    They were doing much more than that so its incidental = Completely misleading.

    June 19, 2014 12:59 am at 12:59 am |
  10. blucorsair

    Obama's 5 terrorist general buddies are probably now in Iraq fighting with ISIS and there are no excuses that he can offer that will justify this!

    June 19, 2014 01:04 am at 1:04 am |
  11. Johnny Walker

    Bergdahl should be imprisoned for his desertion. There was a time in the military that he would have been executed for his actions. Men died because of him these men should have lived and had long lives of their own. Now they are in a box somewhere and the families still grieve. The fact that certain politicians say he "served with honor" is a complete lie. Individuals like Rice, who have never served a day in their lives, don't know what service is and if they were SPC Full's shoes or Mr. Waltz's they would have a radically different perception toward this entire event.

    June 19, 2014 01:05 am at 1:05 am |
  12. johne7

    I can't remember us leaving soldiers in enemy hands just because we thought they weren't the perfect soldier. I hope Republicans get off this moral busting bent.

    June 19, 2014 01:08 am at 1:08 am |
  13. joedog

    As a former combat infantryman; I remember some men saying, "Why are we here (In Viet Nam)?"; but once the orders were given to move out they went and some died. Deserting platoon mates is a crime and a moral evil. It is the very fabric of the armed forces. Pull one thread out and the entire uniform comes part and they soldiers with it.

    June 19, 2014 01:10 am at 1:10 am |
  14. joedog

    Correcting typos: As a former combat infantryman; I remember some men saying, "Why are we here (In Viet Nam)?"; but once the orders were given to move out they did their duty and some died. Deserting platoon mates is a crime and a moral evil. It is the very fabric of the armed forces. Pull one thread out and the entire uniform comes apart and the soldiers with it.

    June 19, 2014 01:12 am at 1:12 am |
  15. Ron

    If their was a shadow of doubt, I would say maybe, just maybe we have unjustly accused bergdahl, BUT, their is no question of his guilt of desertion in the face of the enemy, and a high probably of treason if he gave the Taliban information regarding our troops movements, and by the way the Taliban set traps for our boys, they had to know beforehand which way we would be moving! The repubs need to stop trying to make a hero out of this man when his own men know beyond a shadow of a doubt he deserted!

    June 19, 2014 01:14 am at 1:14 am |
  16. willknutsen

    It sounds like a political game thuis far. No concrete evidence is given in this article. Who were the "six soldiers have approached the family with the revelation their son was actually searching for Bergdahl when he died"? We have only heard from one, the roommate, but we do not know if he is a right-winger, or if he was paid to read his statement, or what. We are left up in the air. And the sad father in the video? His son apparently did not die in the search for Bergdahl. So why was he there? Where were the "six" guys who came to this father and told him his son was killed when looking for Bergdahl? This article could have waited for more facts before being published!.

    June 19, 2014 01:15 am at 1:15 am |
  17. Thomas

    Leave him alone , the guy has been to a very dark place , he has issues and scars that will be with him the rest of his life.

    What ever happened to John Walker Lindh , where is he now .

    June 19, 2014 01:21 am at 1:21 am |
  18. Cindy Anderson

    What a mess! So sad that these men lost their lives. And for what...? Is right...

    June 19, 2014 01:29 am at 1:29 am |
  19. Regressive

    I doubt very seriously that Mr Andrews is being honest. If his son had been in Taliban hands for five years and his platoon mates were accusing him of desertion, any loving parent would NOT turn their back on their child without hearing from them first. And so Mr Andrews I don't believe you

    June 19, 2014 01:56 am at 1:56 am |
  20. j.v.hodgson

    The USCMJ and command rules require deserters to be hunted down wherever they are. Normally that's by MP's and Federal investigators. In a war situation that decision rests with the senior officer in the command structure at the forward operating post in this case, or if he chooses to get authorization from higher up.
    Waltz evidence fails to say he authorized the search for Bergdahl especially the basis and whether at that time he considered Bergdahl a deserter.
    What gets me about all this is why it took 5years for it to emerge from colleagues that he was a deserter and that they nevertheless ( because they say some got killed searching for him and SPC Cody Full implies he knew 5 years ago he had deserted not been captured by Taliban. this special ops group was in hostile territory!?
    The event of attempting to recover a disabled vehicle does not seem to me a necessity in the search for Bergdahl.
    Militarily, until you had good/ reasonably verified Intel about where Bergdahl was you do not go charging around hither and thither in enemy territory to rescue him.... and yes some will be Killed as long as they remains at Post following orders which I would humbly suggest would not daily/ every day go out foraging to find Bergdahl other more pressing needs issues came up at that FOP.
    Regards,
    Hodgson.

    June 19, 2014 02:01 am at 2:01 am |
  21. Gyrgyl

    Pres. Obama did great by bringing Berghdahl.

    June 19, 2014 02:09 am at 2:09 am |
  22. Iamnotfooled

    A son is still a son whether he is a deserter or not. Any parent would do anything to get him back. Just my opinion. This case is sad for both sides.

    June 19, 2014 02:13 am at 2:13 am |
  23. Anonymous

    God bless you Mr. Andrews and God bless your son. I am so sorry that you have to go through this. Your son is a hero and should be remembered as such.

    June 19, 2014 02:16 am at 2:16 am |
  24. S.

    How can there be a Congressional hearing when Berghdal isn't even present? How does Congress have the authority to investigate this in the first place? Isn't this for the military courts? Doesn't Berghdal have rights?

    June 19, 2014 02:19 am at 2:19 am |
  25. Dan Bowen

    So why again did the president and his staff try to initially pitch the returning hero narrative?

    June 19, 2014 02:42 am at 2:42 am |
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