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. JHW

    The Army better start some Courts Martial proceedings for desertion, and all the other possible charges..

    June 18, 2014 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  2. Ann Terhune

    Republicans seem willing to do anything to attack Obama including smearing the reputation of a prisoner of war before all the information is known. shame on them. It is amazing what people will say when they get drawn into political battles. Remember what some of John Kerry's fellow Vietnam soldiers said about him during the campaign–the swift boat group-who were put together by enemies of Obama. That still rates as one of the lowest of the low smear campaigns in history. I feel sorry for Bergdahl and his family.

    June 18, 2014 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  3. Kevin

    The only way this ends properly is to court-martial him and imprison him if found guilty. It still doesn't mean that we presume guilt before innocence or leave POWs behind.

    June 18, 2014 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  4. Donnie the Lion

    I support the prisoner exchange, but I also support a thorough investigation of Bergdahl's actions, and mental health at every stage of his deployment.

    June 18, 2014 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  5. Barasheit

    Told you so

    June 18, 2014 09:25 pm at 9:25 pm |
  6. BUD

    What a bunch of BS.
    Deserter or not your son is your son and in this case we don't have all the facts.

    June 18, 2014 09:27 pm at 9:27 pm |
  7. TomNPitt

    How does Andy Andrews know anything about his son's bravery? None of the "eyewitnesses" testifying against Bergdahl, had anything positive to say about ANY of the men they say were killed looking for them. Only that they died and we lied about their deaths as well. Is anyone worth a trade to get them back? Shouldn't they all die before surrendering? Just askin' a Republican Tea Bagger Patriot type question!

    June 18, 2014 09:27 pm at 9:27 pm |
  8. Hillary Izexi

    Obama-Cult Members swear up-and-down that The 5 Terrorist For 1 Deserter Trade was a fantastic idea, as millions of criminal immigrants flood the country from Mexico while one US Marine is trapped in one of their jails. To make things worse, after spending all this time denying that their was an attack in Benghazi that cost several American's their lives, they finally unapologetically confess it was an attack.

    June 18, 2014 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  9. Ron

    1st comment...HA

    June 18, 2014 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  10. sosdn

    obama traded 5 top terrorists for this guy

    June 18, 2014 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  11. Jimmyjam048

    Fact still remains:
    1. We don't leave our soldiers behind. Period.
    2. If in doubt as to his desertion, investigate fully, without bias and if charges are deemed necessary, go for it.
    3. No sides should be using this story to attempt to sway the voting populace. Any attempt to do so should be dealt with harshly with a bet of NO CONFIDENCE for that politician or his party.

    June 18, 2014 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  12. Anonymous

    We have brought him home. Now put him to justice.

    June 18, 2014 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  13. George Welch

    Gerry Connelly better listen up. The facts are being related right to his face if he would listen. How can you discount the testimony of the people who were there? Putting the "Obama Spin" on every scandal is getting old with the few remaining Americans left with a brain.

    June 18, 2014 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  14. Gary

    If you feel like bashing someone, how about the 5 time deferment grabbing draft dodger who started this war. Thats who those parents ought to be mad at. Bergdahl didn't start this war.

    June 18, 2014 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  15. McLovin

    Wow, can anyone see the look of surprise on my face. Yes, Bergdahl did desert.

    June 18, 2014 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  16. NYNJCT

    Bowe Bergdahl's roomate, team leader,his bosses and so many people who was surrounded him have called him DESERTER except Susan Rice and Obama. WE SHOULD REMEMBER MIDTERM ELECTION in NOVEMBER.

    June 18, 2014 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  17. McBob79

    It will be funny to see the media attempt character assassination on these soldiers and defend Bergdahl. They will do so in order to protect the president and his decision to release terrorists back into freedom in exchange for this guy who by all reasonable accounts deserted.

    June 18, 2014 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  18. Thomas A. Hawk

    This is silly. Congress is taking "testimony" of a roommate who expressed an opinion. That is not evidence.

    Get a real prosecutor in there to ask questions that are admissible in court. Otherwise this is a waste of money and potentially could derail an actual investigation. Seems Congress is more intrested in grandstanding and re-election than letting criminal investigators do their jobs.

    Done correctly, we shouldn't know what's going on, yet.

    June 18, 2014 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  19. nathan berg

    now it's not just opinion, it's EVIDENCE...

    June 18, 2014 09:42 pm at 9:42 pm |
  20. rick

    I am a vet. And IF it can be proven that the man is a deserter. We have a place in history for him. Its called Ft Levenworth. Many have been placed there because of EXACTLY the same thing that is comming out about this soldiers service. I have proof of a good service to my country. Many have. I am a patriotic citizen. Please DO NOT cheapen the price in blood going back in our countrys history. By letting the TRUTH be shoved under the rug for politics. If this man was captured by the taliban by deciet or action.. Let it be shown.. If he deserted his post in a combat area.. Dont hide it from the public. Honor.. Duty.. Country.. Is the oath many believe in.. And go by every day in service. Thousands of injured vets are wondering also.. There should be no "grey area" of the truth. If captured and unwilling.. He should be shown as a brave man.. If deserted his post.. Should be prosecuted by a court marshall..

    June 18, 2014 09:54 pm at 9:54 pm |
  21. Mark

    I really don't understand the rationale here. Many of these people are mentally disturbed in the first place for wanting to go over there and kill people. Then their experiences in combat certainly don't help. Then they do something psychologically unthinkable like walk off into the desert knowing full well they run a serious risk of getting their head hacked off for a y0utube video.

    What do these people want? Should he be thrown in an American prison with "Chelsea" Manning now after spending the better part of a decade as a POW of the Taliban? These people are being asked to do things that are most certainly damaging to the mentally healthy and appealing to the already insane. Lets not act surprised when one of them leaks classified information and changes sexes. Or comes home and shoots his coworkers, or walks off into the desert looking for trouble.

    June 18, 2014 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
  22. sonnie3

    Look's like Bowe is a RAT and he did the AWOL thing. Court Marshal and off to prison for being a deserter.

    June 18, 2014 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  23. Bmac

    he's not worth any time, effort, or resources, just denie his military benifits and let him go back to Idaho to live in his dads basement ...

    June 18, 2014 09:58 pm at 9:58 pm |
  24. sonnie3

    Chuck Hagel is becoming more and more disappointing as time marches on. He seem to be a pawn and can be moved where they want him and steer him in any direction that supports hussein obama. A real person would tell it like it is and face the fact that show what is happening.

    June 18, 2014 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  25. Fluffy Pillow

    Haven't seen a deal this dumb since the Sox traded the Babe.

    June 18, 2014 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
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