'We Swore to an Oath and We Upheld Ours. He Did Not.'
The soldiers in Bowe Bergdahl's platoon speak up.
3:45 PM, Jun 2, 2014 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
Cornelison, as the unit's medic, was questioned virtually every time the platoon rotated back to a large base to clear up and get a hot meal. "We got 90 minutes for a shower and a meal -- and I spent 45 minutes every time answering their questions." Investigators asked about everything—from the circumstances of Bergdahl's departure, to his views on the Army and his interactions with other soldiers. A frequent line of questioning involved the kind of information Bergdahl possessed that could aid the Taliban—medical knowledge, how the Army responds to IED attacks, troop movements, rules of engagement.
Bergdahl was initially classified as DUSTWUN—duty status: whereabouts unknown. Two military sources involved in recovery operations tell THE WEEKLY STANDARD that after the AR 15-6 investigation, the U.S. Army considered Bergdahl absent without leave. Pentagon officials engaged in a lengthy—and sometimes heated—debate about whether to reclassify Bergdahl as a deserter. In the end, he was not formally listed as a deserter, though the nature of his disappearance is far from a settled issue.
Bergdahl is at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he is under medical evaluation. He is undergoing a lengthy debriefing process by a variety of U.S. officials, including counterintelligence specialists, who will try to learn more about the circumstances of his departure and the nature of his time with the Taliban and, eventually, the Haqqani network.
In Washington, lawmakers are accusing the administration of ignoring laws signed by the president. "This is very serious," says Representative Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. McKeon says the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed out of his committee on a vote of 59-3, required the administration to give Congress a 30-day advance notification on Guantanamo transfers. "This administration has flouted the law again and again and again. We will be having hearings about this."
Obama administration officials argued over the weekend that Bergdahl's deteriorating health required the administration to move urgently to return him to the care of the U.S. military. He is currently in stable condition.
The five Taliban commanders were transferred to Qatar in an agreement approved by senior leaders of the Afghan Taliban. Obama administration officials have said that the former Guantanamo prisoners—all of whom were considered "high risk" to return to the battle—will be monitored. The administration has not detailed what that monitoring will involve. Most the prisoners transferred from Guantanamo over the past decade have also been subject to post-release tracking, but nearly a third of that group are known or suspected recidivists.
And intelligence officials point out that the Qataris have funded jihadists throughout the region, including some of the fiercest fighters in Syria. For those reasons and others (laid out here by Thomas Joscelyn), officials take little comfort in security guarantees touted—but not defined—by the Obama administration.
One uncomfortable question that has vexed those involved in the Bergdahl case: Was Bergdahl merely a deserter or was he, possibly, a Taliban collaborator?
"I can't speak about what was in his head," says Specialist Full. "I can only speak about what I saw with my own eyes."
Still, several military officials who spoke with THE WEEKLY STANDARD noted privately that Taliban attacks on U.S. forces in the Paktika province seemed to increase in frequency and effectiveness.
CNN's Jake Tapper, who has done extensive reporting on Afghanistan and has spoken to many sources about the Bergdahl case specifically, reported that "at least six soldiers were killed in searches for Bergdahl." There may be a simple explanation: U.S. forces in the area were more exposed because of the frequency of their missions in search of Bergdahl. In the weeks following Bergdahl's disappearance, many regular missions were shelved so that rescue operations could be executed. These missions, and ones undertaken by tactical and special forces, were often conducted with less time to prepare and with fewer precautions taken than traditional raids.
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