Army secretary: Bergdahl decision coming soon

Army secretary: Bergdahl decision coming soon
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Army Secretary John McHugh said Wednesday that a decision on whether former prisoner of war Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl deserted his post in Afghanistan would be coming in the "near future." 

"I would think that we could reasonably expect to see something in the relatively near future," McHugh told reporters at a briefing in Washington. "The range extends from on one end of the spectrum — from no further action to the other end of the spectrum, potential court-martial."

Although the Army's second fact-finding investigation of Bergdahl was concluded in December, McHugh said no decision has been reached on charges because of the number of documents that needed to be reviewed and the "complexity" of the case. 

"It has been a lengthy investigation, and I think if you look at both the time involved from Sgt. Bergdahl's disappearance to his recovery to this point in time in large measure, that's understandable," he said. 

"The other largely contributing factor is the complexity of the case, coupled with the fact that we have the future of a soldier in our hands," he added. "We want to be fair. We want to protect that soldier's rights and come out to the proper conclusion." 

Critics have charged that politics have slowed the decision on Bergdahl, given the potential embarrassment to the White House if he is found to have deserted his post. 

The Obama administration secretly negotiated with the Taliban through Qatar to swap Bergdahl, 28, for five senior Taliban members being held at the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The deal outraged members of Congress, who were not given the 30-days notice required by law before the detainees were released.

The president had announced Bergdahl's recovery at a White House Rose Garden ceremony, and several days later, national security adviser Susan Rice had declared Bergdahl had served "with honor and distinction." However, some troops who served with Bergdahl say he deserted his post and that people lost their lives looking for him. 

Last month, defense officials acknowledged that one of the five Taliban members being held in Qatar is suspected of returning to terrorist activity. 

And lawmakers have charged that the prisoner swap had violated the U.S.'s policy of not negotiating with terrorists. The trade has also upset family members of hostages who say the government did not do everything it could to recover their loved ones. 

McHugh said he did not place any time constraints on Army Gen. Mark Milley, the commander with decision-making authority on the Bergdahl case. 

"This is a legal undertaking, and I'm sure from Gen. Mark Milley's perspective, he wants to be as cautious and prudent as possible," he said. "I think it's far more important that we get it right rather than we get it quickly."