Bergdahl’s critics get congressional setting to air complaints

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WASHINGTON -- U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s roommate at an outpost in Afghanistan got a congressional hearing Wednesday for his campaign to portray the rescued soldier as a deserter unworthy of the sacrifices made to get him back.

“If Bergdahl hadn’t deserted us, then he would have never been held in captivity,” former Spc Cody Full said in a statement submitted to two House Foreign Affairs subcommittees.

The hearing provided an official forum for former servicemen who say Sgt. Bergdahl should face desertion charges for walking off his base in 2009, leading to his capture by militants in eastern Afghanistan. It provided a new line of attack for Republican lawmakers critical of President Barack Obama’s deal to trade five Taliban prisoners for Sgt. Bergdahl’s freedom.

Until now, most lawmakers have concentrated their criticism on Mr. Obama’s failure to notify Congress in advance of the prisoner exchange and the danger that the freed Taliban may engage in terrorism. But Republicans at Wednesday’s hearing said Sgt. Bergdahl was undeserving of the military’s “leave no soldier behind” policy because he walked off his post voluntarily.

“He was not left behind; he left his fellow soldiers behind,” Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, chairman of the Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade subcommittee, said after the hearing. “It’s the responsibility of the United States to get all of our warfighters back home eventually -- including him. Now, he needs to let the military deal with the accusations against him.”

Sgt. Bergdahl, an Idaho man, is undergoing treatment and reorientation at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. The Defense Department this week assigned Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl to investigate the circumstances of Sgt. Bergdahl’s disappearance and capture. “Our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred,” Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said earlier this month.

Mr. Obama has said how Sgt. Bergdahl came to be captured has no bearing on whether he should have been rescued. “The American people understand that this is somebody’s child,” the president said June 5. “We don’t condition whether or not we make the effort to try and get them back.”

Mr. Full said Wednesday that Sgt. Bergdahl was at first a model soldier. That began to change in a combat zone in Afghanistan, where Mr. Full said Sgt. Bergdahl told him that he could see himself “getting lost in these mountains.”

Also testifying was Andy Andrews, whose son, 2nd Lt. Darryn Andrews, was killed in Afghanistan. He was awarded a Silver Star for pushing two fellow soldiers out of the way of a rocket-propelled grenade that killed him. Mr. Andrews said he was told by soldiers who served with Darryn that his son was killed while searching for Sgt. Bergdahl.

Military officials have questioned the assertion that the search for Sgt. Bergdahl led to the death of soldiers in a period when they were already engaged in frequent confrontations with Taliban forces. “In the Army, in all of our reports, I have seen no evidence that directly links any American combat death to the rescue or finding or search of Sergeant Bergdahl, and we’ve all asked the question,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the House Armed Services Committee at its June 11 hearing.


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