By Justin Sink - 06/03/14 03:00 PM EDT
White House defends Bergdahl’s service
The White House on Tuesday defended national security adviser Susan Rice's assertion that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl served "with honor and distinction," amid questions about whether the recently returned soldier deserted his unit.
“Sgt. Bergdahl put on the uniform of the United States voluntarily and went to war for the United States voluntarily,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told CNN on Tuesday.
“That takes honor and is a mark of distinction,” he added.
Rice has come under fire for the comment, made during an interview with ABC News on Sunday, following new reports that suggest the Pentagon concluded in 2010 that Bergdahl intentionally walked away from his fellow soldiers.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that he left a note in his tent saying he was disillusioned with the U.S. Army and did not support the mission in Afghanistan.
Deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said "we need to give Sgt. Bergdahl an opportunity to tell his story and tell us what happened" when asked about Rice's comments during an interview Tuesday with MSNBC.
"Keep in mind, he just spent five years in captivity in the most horrendous conditions possible," Blinken said. "We want to bring him home. We want to reunite him with his family. We want to get him well, and then he'll have an opportunity to tell us what happened."
The administration officials also insisted that the U.S. obligation to rescue Bergdahl existed whether he had deserted or not.
“We do not allow members of the military being held by the enemy to sit and rot,” Carney said.
“The principle at stake here is: Do we, the United States, leave our uniformed members of the military behind when they’ve been captured by the enemy. And the answer is: no. We don’t do that. That’s why the commander in chief acted as he did,” Carney added.
Bergdahl was returned to U.S. custody on Saturday in exchange for the release of five Taliban commanders being held at Guantánamo Bay.
Some lawmakers have criticized the decision, and families of service members apparently killed in the search for Bergdahl have expressed outrage over the prisoner swap.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) told MSNBC on Tuesday that the possibility that Bergdahl had deserted raised "a real question of whether you go in and trade" five prisoners to secure his release.
But Blinken insisted the U.S. "made a commitment" to bring Bergdahl home.
"The president made a commitment to the men and woman who put on our uniform," Blinken said. "He'll bring them home, and that's what he did."
The administration officials also repeated assurances that the freed Taliban militants, who were given a hero's welcome in Qatar, did not pose a safety risk.
"We have commitments from the government of Qatar and personal assurances from the emir of Qatar to President Obama that we will retain a tight check on the activities and the movements of these five," Blinken said.
"We'll be watching very carefully. We have an agreement. We have a commitment. We'll be making sure that it's upheld," he added.