Developments surrounding the trade of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Al Qaeda ringleaders proliferated by the hour on Tuesday, including an admission by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman that the American captive is not immune from prosecution for desertion.
“This was likely the last best opportunity to free him,” Gen. Martin Dempsey said, according to the Washington Times. “As for the circumstances of his capture, when he is able to provide them, we’ll learn the facts.”
If charges were warranted, they would be pursued, he added, according to the Times, but “like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty.”
The media, political pundits and U.S. authorities assessed Bergdahl’s strange story throughout the day, as revelations, innuendoes, testimonies, analyses and disturbing questions filled the airwaves.
Former platoon members who served with the Idaho native consistently denounced him, describing his anti-Army, anti-U.S. sentiments and apparent sympathy for the Afghanistan-based Taliban.
Two of his platoon mates were particularly outraged at National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s egregious description of Bergdahl as having “served with honor and distinction.”
Other soldiers and the family members of slain military personnel said Bergdahl could be responsible for the deaths of six to 14 soldiers involved in the hunt to locate and free him.
More damning, Army Sgt. Evan Buetow told multiple media outlets that a small search team he was on picked up radio intercepts from Afghan villagers discussing a U.S. soldier looking for English-speaking locals so he could communicate with the Taliban.
“I heard it straight from the interpreter’s lips as he heard it over the radio,” Buetow told CNN. “There’s a lot more to this story than a soldier walking away.”
Others have hinted at sudden increases in the Taliban’s combat effectiveness, as if someone was feeding militants inside information.
No one has come forward to defend Bergdahl, who is recuperating in Germany and will soon be transferred to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, according to Politico.
The Obama administration’s handling of the release also came under scathing criticism.
U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Fox News that she was “disappointed and dismayed, very dismayed,” that the White House didn’t consult with her or notify her of the deal.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the committee’s ranking Republican, said he hadn’t had a conversation on a possible prisoner swap in 18 month.
“Now, if that’s keeping us in the loop, then you know, this administration is more arrogant than I thought they were,” he said, according to Fox.
Fox News analyst and former Lt. Col. Ralph Peters was livid over “the disdain with which Team Obama treats the military,” saying the release of “Mullah Omar’s dream team” was like replenishing the enemy in a time of war.
Other congressional representatives castigated Obama for breaking White House spokesman Jay Carney’s solemn promise last June that “the administration would not make any decisions about transfer of any detainees without consulting with Congress and without doing so in accordance with U.S. law.”
That left several pundits to wonder why Bergdahl was never listed as a prisoner of war. Many noted that an Army investigation in 2010 had determined that the disaffected soldier had essentially “deserted.”
Further muddying the waters was novelist Brad Thor’s speculation that money was involved in Bergdahl’s release. Bergdahl had been held captive for five years by the Haqqani network in Pakistan, whose foremost interest is money, not al-Qaida leadership, Thor told Fox News host Megyn Kelly, adding that the Haqqanis are the ones who released the American.
“So where’s the money?” Thor asked. “There has to be a payoff. Where is the money?”
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