The Army will investigate charges that rescued Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl deserted his post in Afghanistan, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said Tuesday.
“When he is able to provide them, we’ll learn the facts. Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty,” Dempsey said in a post to his Facebook page. “Our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred.”
A Pentagon investigation concluded in 2010 that Bergdahl had walked away from his unit before being captured by the Taliban, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. And according to The New York Times, Bergdahl left a note in his tent saying he was disillusioned with the U.S. Army and did not support the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.
Bergdahl has come under criticism from some service members and Republican lawmakers who have accused the soldier of costing American lives in efforts to rescue him in Afghanistan. They have also questioned the decision to free five Taliban militants being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison in exchange for Bergdahl’s release.
But Dempsey and other administration officials have looked to separate the rescue effort from questions over Bergdahl’s conduct.
“In response to those of you interested in my personal judgments about the recovery of SGT Bowe Bergdahl, the questions about this particular soldier’s conduct are separate from our effort to recover ANY U.S. service member in enemy captivity,” Dempsey said. “This was likely the last, best opportunity to free him.”
Even if Bergdahl was found by military investigators to have deserted or been absent without leave, he is unlikely to face additional penalties after his nearly five years in Taliban captivity.
"Five years is enough," an unidentified Defense official told CNN.
At a press conference in Warsaw on Tuesday, Obama said that U.S. officials “obviously have not been interrogating Sgt. Bergdahl” since his return.
“He’s having to undergo a whole battery of tests and he’s going to have to undergo a significant transition back into life,” Obama said, noting that he “has not even met with his family yet.”
But Obama said the U.S. doesn’t “condition” its “sacred” obligation to not “leave our men or women in uniform behind.”
"Regardless of the circumstances, we still get an American soldier back if he's held in captivity,” Obama said. “Period. Full stop."