WASHINGTON, Jun 4 – Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, recently freed after five years as a captive of the Taliban, may still be disciplined if the army finds evidence of misconduct, the US military’s top officer said Tuesday.
General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was speaking after claims from members of Bergdahl’s unit that he had been captured after abandoning his post.
The New York Times cited a former military official as saying Bergdahl slipped away from his base near the Afghan border with Pakistan, leaving a note saying he had become disillusioned with the army and the war and was going to start a new life.
“Our army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred,” Dempsey said.
The general stressed that Bergdahl, who was taken as a private and promoted while in captivity, was innocent until proven guilty, and that the military would continue to care for him and his family.
“The questions about this particular soldier’s conduct are separate from our effort to recover ANY US service member in enemy captivity,” Dempsey wrote in his statement.
“This was likely the last, best opportunity to free him. As for the circumstances of his capture, when he is able to provide them, we’ll learn the facts.”
Meanwhile, CNN reported Tuesday that a US Army fact-finding investigation conducted in the months after Bergdahl’s 2009 disappearance concluded that he left his post deliberately, according to an official familiar with the probe who spoke with the network on condition of anonymity.
The official said there was no definitive finding Bergdahl had deserted because that would have required knowing his intent.
The probe also interviewed members of Bergdahl’s unit, none of whom reported seeing him go, according to the official.
Pentagon spokesman Steven Warren confirmed there was such a fact-finding investigation in 2009, but stressed that its findings are classified.
President Barack Obama has come under fire from Republicans and other critics who say the swap will encourage others to try to take American soldiers or diplomats hostage.
Obama’s aides have defended the deal as an appropriate attempt to save the life of a captured soldier’s whose health was believed to be deteriorating.
Warren also said Bergdahl, who is being cared for at a US military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, had not yet spoken with his parents.
“That step will be taken when the psychologists and other medical professionals will determine the time is right,” he said.
Army Secretary John McHugh the army will conduct a “comprehensive, coordinated” review of the circumstances around Bergdahl’s disappearance and capture, after taking care of his health and reintegration.
“There is no timeline for this, and we will take as long as medically necessary to aid his recovery,” he said.
“All other decisions will be made thereafter, and in accordance with appropriate regulations, policies and practices.”