The U.S. Army will not ignore any misconduct by released Taliban detainee Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, but he should be considered innocent until proven guilty, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
"The questions about this particular soldier's conduct are separate from our effort to recover ANY U.S. service member in enemy captivity," General Martin Dempsey said in a posting on his Facebook page on Tuesday.
Bergdahl, held for nearly five years in Afghanistan, was freed last week in a prisoner-swap deal with the Taliban brokered by the Qatari government. Five Taliban militants were released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and flown to Qatar.
"This was likely the last, best opportunity to free him," Dempsey said.
The general said the military will question Bergdahl about the circumstances of his capture.
"Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty," Dempsey said. "Our Army's leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred. In the meantime, we will continue to care for him and his family."
Bergdahl was captured in unknown circumstances in eastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, about two months after arriving in the country. Many U.S. government officials say they believe he was seized after walking away from his unit in violation of U.S. military regulations.
On Monday, Republican members of the U.S. Congress said President Barack Obama had set a dangerous precedent with the prisoner swap and might have broken the law.
Fueling the criticism were accusations by some soldiers that Bergdahl was a deserter who cost the lives of several comrades.
Sgt. Bergdahl seems to have grown disillusioned with the mission, bitter about the Army and especially higher ranking enlisted men and officers, and simply walked off – gone “outside the wire” or protective base limits – and disappeared.
That could indicate that he had gone AWOL (Absence Without Leave), also referred to as “Unauthorized Absence” (UA), which could bring charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
This scenario – it’s important to note that it has not been confirmed – is based on detailed reporting in 2012 by Rolling Stone magazine, which included interviews with Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers as well as apparently lengthy conversations with his parents in Idaho, who shared e-mails they had exchanged with him up until his disappearance.
Obama on Tuesday defended the operation to rescue Bergdahl, saying the United States was committed to freeing its prisoners of war regardless of how they were captured.
On Monday, the State Department said it considered Bergdahl a member of the military who was detained while in combat. The Pentagon said it was unable to confirm media reports that troops had been killed trying to locate Bergdahl following his June 2009 disappearance.
The Pentagon says Bergdahl is in a stable condition at the U.S. Army's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where doctors were assessing his condition after five years of captivity. Officials have indicated there is little desire to pursue any disciplinary action against him given what he has been through. ( Editing by Doina Chiacu, Lisa Von Ahn and Sofina Mirza-Reid)