June 18th, 2014
08:02 PM ET
7 years 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.

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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. DerBaron

    I would think the Army would have first crack at this?

    June 18, 2014 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  2. LCDR McCane

    Hey who knew the Army has Swift Boats too!

    June 18, 2014 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  3. EugeneBlair

    War and combat cause people to do things they otherwise would never do.
    Whatever happened in A'stan should stay there, who are we to second guess it all after-fact?

    June 18, 2014 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  4. Logic

    Absolutely absurd. He was not "left behind" he WALKED away. He deserted his brothers. You do NOT exchange 1 man for 5 high ranking terrorists. Period. This move made absolutely no sense what-so-ever. There were lesser detainees that we could have traded...but 5 leaders? Without consulting Congress like the law states? How is anyone on board with this?

    June 18, 2014 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  5. C

    If he would have been left there and killed by the Taliban then the GOP would be saying how a man of honor and distinction was killed because the Obama administration didn't do anything. Hasn't it become painfully obvious that no matter what Obama does he is ALWAYS wrong! I just can't believe anything coming out of ANY politicians mouth anymore regardless of what side of the isle they lean towards. Very disheartening!

    June 18, 2014 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  6. CPT Obvious

    This is way too heavy for a troubled young man, he really screwed up, five years in a cage for mistake, lives potentially lost, ripped up by the media masses. This would make someone truly psychotic, might be too late. May God have mercy on you. At least the cages at Fort Leavenworth have access to CNN.

    June 18, 2014 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  7. Liri

    Obama and Hillary wanted so much to push Benghazi under the run for not saving Americans when they could. Obama and the Democratic Party, in an effort to prove that they care about Americans,, grabbed the opportunity to save Bergdahl without vetting the situation. Good that this situation puts forth who they are really.

    June 18, 2014 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  8. lvg

    So this is how due process and the right of cross examination of witnesses against the accused works.

    June 18, 2014 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  9. 1776usa2016

    Dozens of guys went "over the fence" in Afghanistan but none of them got the treatment that Bergdahl is getting.

    What makes these guys hate Bergdahl so much?

    Yes, he's a strange dude that probably should have never been accepted in the Army but still he didn't seem to hold ill will toward his unit or his country.

    I'll be interested to see what Bergdahl himself has to say about all of this.


    June 18, 2014 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  10. da

    Anytime someone is captured, it puts others in danger. When someone walks off a job, they don't call him a hero when he gets himself into trouble.

    June 18, 2014 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  11. Clear and Present Thinker

    Too many folks testifying before any committee of the current House of Representatives are there only to support the Teap Party or other wingnut agenda. Truth is not an objective. The appropriate time for Congressional hearings on things that happen in the Executive Branch is after the fact, not while the executive is conducting its own investigation. The current fiasco in the House is nothing more than political meddling that would have no standing in a court of law other than to give rise to a successful motion to dismiss any criminal charges due to unlawful interference with the judicial process.

    June 18, 2014 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  12. Creel

    The truth always comes out in the end.

    June 18, 2014 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  13. AndyDaniel

    I honestly don't know whether or not the President made the right decision regarding the trade, but having these hearings now, especially before Bergdahl is available to testify, reeks of political theatre. The President made his decision, right or wrong, based on information he had at the time. Getting testimony now establishing that Bergdahl was a deserter, or a traitor, or mentally ill, or captured from a latrine, or that he was the secret son of Elvis on a mission from Santa Claus doesn't change what the President knew at the time he made the decision to trade.

    June 18, 2014 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  14. john

    What a shame we have to spend time on this so-called hero. Never should have bailed him out by giving up prisoners.

    June 18, 2014 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  15. Blake

    I don't get some of these soldiers' stories. After watching interviews they seem so sure of themselves... until they aren't, then are instantly sure of themselves again with pseudo logic in my opinion. I can't get my head around how they directly blame Bergdahl for the death of their comrades or say that their main mission was looking for him, when obviously the circumstances of most of the deaths prove otherwise. Or know for sure that he pre-planned desertion when these guys readily admit he went on walks before and came back, they didn't see him leave the last time, but this time "he 100% left for sure this time." Huh? He was also worried about taking his equipment on a "walk" before going missing. Why if you were going to desert would you care about punishment for taking military equipment off base? This doesn't add up.

    Why would the military lie in 2009-2011 about how the soldiers in question died when there wasn't a political firestorm and most people knew the circumstances that he may have actually deserted when this happened? Everyone in Congress and the Administration involved wanted to bring him back even with this information readily available, until the rose garden thing with the family, which wasn't even political except for Obama appearing with the parents to welcome him back to friendly hands. It wasn't a victory parade hailing him as the best soldier that ever lived and a hero for the ages.

    June 18, 2014 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  16. Daniel

    Spc. Cody Full's comments are asinine. So according to his logic, his unit did absolutely nothing for 5 years and was just searching for Bergdahl. I serious doubt that. The unit had more to do then just search for one soldier. Otherwise, why be in Afghanistan in the first place? He just wants to pin everything on Bergdahl because he probably has a personal disagreement with his decision to leave. Does Spc Full think we are so stupid to believe such a stupid assertion? Frankly, I wish I could tell him face to face to stop lying and making such stupid comments because it just makes him look stupid.

    June 18, 2014 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  17. Army Vet 1966-1969

    I hate to think that the POTUS made the trade for political points -- I was discouraged with Susan rice's comments; they were worse than when she lied about Benghazi. and I was dumbfounded by Hillary Clinton's comments that the five Taliban were not a danger to the US. If Hillary were President, I would not serve

    June 18, 2014 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  18. Jeff

    This isn't a legislative issue. The C in C of the armed forces doesn't need Congressional approval to manage the military or its prisoners. The Taliban leaders were POWs, not terrorist suspects.

    June 18, 2014 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  19. king

    repubs repubs repubs. i wonder what they would have been screaming about if Obama had allowed the Taliban to execute our soldier. these repubs would be up in arms running around the corner with pitch forks and torches yelling Obama has killed our soldier and killing our vets at hospitals. then appear on the other side, with signs of benghazi benghazi benghazi. why does the american people keep following these nonsensical party. every thing they do is politics, they've got me wondering if they ever will be able to do anything constructive for the american people again.

    June 18, 2014 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  20. greenwyvern99

    Even if he was in the latrine wasn't he suppose to be on guard duty? Have I read that wrong in other articles? If on guard duty you don't go to the latrine unless someone takes your place while you are gone. I was in Nam in the Marines and if I had left my guard duty post to go pee I would have been court marshaled. I don't know what to think about this situation, but I tend to trust what the other solders are saying. I will reserve judgement till all facts are out but things don't look good.

    June 18, 2014 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  21. News enquirer

    Its a sad situation on this soldiers fate the reality on what truly is the facts is lying in the balance of justice. Hes caught between a rock and a hard place. Neither looks good. Maybe thats why he hasnt met with his folks.

    June 18, 2014 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
  22. Bet

    Something is bad wrong with that entire squad.

    June 18, 2014 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  23. Smitty

    Just a bad deal, unproductive deserter for 5 high target value anti American terrorist. How can this be good ???

    June 18, 2014 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  24. Anonymous

    This president does not deserve to be called "The Commander and Chief" of our military forces. He shames them with his cowardice and inability to act. He has yet to apologize for blood on his hands in Benghazi and I'm sure the only thing important to him now is legalizing illegals in this country and global warming. He probably feels the heat from the hot seat his has created for himself.

    June 18, 2014 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  25. Andrew

    Of course the SecDef can say that 'no deaths were directly related to the search'. However, as a veteran, I can tell you that if an American Soldier is missing, then DUSTWUN becomes the underlying priority of every mission. Troops, resources, intelligence assets, all of that is redirected to recover our lost Soldiers and Marines. So there is a very, very good chance that whatever mission they were on was likely conducted in large part because of Bergdahl's disappearance. I hope that little PoS knows how many good men died because he was unhappy.

    June 18, 2014 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
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