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Americas

US soldier in Taliban prisoner swap could face prosecution

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-06-04

US Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, recently freed after five years held by the Taliban, may still be disciplined if the army finds evidence of misconduct, the military’s top officer said on Tuesday, as Republican outrage over the prisoner exchange mounted.

General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was speaking after claims from members of Bergdahl’s unit that he had been captured after abandoning his post.

The New York Times cited a former military official as saying Bergdahl slipped away from his base near the Afghan border with Pakistan, leaving a note saying he had become disillusioned with the army and the war and was going to start a new life.

“Our army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred,” Dempsey said.
The general stressed that Bergdahl, who was taken as a private and promoted while in captivity, was innocent until proven guilty, and that the military would continue to care for him and his family.

“The questions about this particular soldier’s conduct are separate from our effort to recover any US service member in enemy captivity,” Dempsey wrote in his statement.

“This was likely the last, best opportunity to free him. As for the circumstances of his capture, when he is able to provide them, we’ll learn the facts.”

Meanwhile, CNN reported on Tuesday that a US Army fact-finding investigation conducted in the months after Bergdahl’s 2009 disappearance concluded that he left his post deliberately, according to an official familiar with the probe who spoke with the network on condition of anonymity.

The official said there was no definitive finding Bergdahl had deserted because that would have required knowing his intent.

The official said there was no definitive finding that Bergdahl had deserted.

The probe also interviewed members of Bergdahl’s unit, none of whom reported seeing him leave, according to the official.

Pentagon spokesman Steven Warren confirmed there was such a fact-finding investigation in 2009, but stressed that its findings are classified.

Republican pressure

President Barack Obama has come under fire from Republicans and other critics who say the swap will encourage others to try to take American soldiers or diplomats hostage.

Obama’s aides have defended the deal as an appropriate attempt to save the life of a captured soldier’s whose health was believed to be deteriorating.

But the White House apologised on Monday for keeping lawmakers in the dark regarding the exchange of Bergdahl.

Administration officials plan a classified briefing for the full 100-member chamber Wednesday, with lawmakers from both parties fuming over the trade, with Bergdahl released Saturday to US special forces in Afghanistan.

Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein, a senior member of Obama's Democratic Party, said the White House breached US law when it failed to alert Congress to the proposed trade.

"It comes with some surprise and dismay that the transfers went ahead with no consultation, totally not following the law," she told reporters.

"We're very dismayed about it."

Taliban releases video of handover

Taliban video of US soldier handover

On Wednesday, the Taliban emailed a video of the Bergdahl handover to several international media outlets, including to the Associated Press which posted the raw footage on YouTube.

The video shows Bergdahl, dressed in traditional Afghan clothing, sitting in a parked pickup truck surrounded by more than a dozen Taliban fighters with machineguns.

Before his release, Bergdahl is seen blinking rapidly as he stares at and listens to his captors.

A Black Hawk helicopter then lands and two Taliban fighters, one carrying a white flag, lead Bergdahl half way. He is greeted and taken by three Western-looking men in civilian clothing to the helicopter, where soldiers in army uniforms are waiting.

Bergdahl in recovery

Pentagon spokesman Warren said Bergdahl, who is being cared for at a US military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, had not yet spoken with his parents.

“That step will be taken when the psychologists and other medical professionals will determine the time is right,” he said.

Army Secretary John McHugh said the army will conduct a “comprehensive, coordinated” review of the circumstances around Bergdahl’s disappearance and capture, after taking care of his health and reintegration.

“There is no timeline for this, and we will take as long as medically necessary to aid his recovery,” he said.

“All other decisions will be made thereafter, and in accordance with appropriate regulations, policies and practices.”

In Bergdahl's home town of Hailey, Idaho, the 28-year-old soldiers is being treated as a hero. Balloons, symbolic yellow ribbons and celebratory signs sprouted up in the town after the news of his release over the weekend.

Bob Bergdahl, fighting back tears as he appeared to address his son directly in a public appearance in Boise, Idaho, on Sunday, said he was proud of "your desire and your action to serve this country in a very difficult, long war".

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-06-04

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