Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier released after being held for nearly five years by the Taliban, is not out of the clear yet, the nation’s top general said on Tuesday.
“As for the circumstances of his capture, when he is able to provide them, we’ll learn the facts,” wrote Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a Facebook message.
On Saturday, President Barack Obama announced the exchange of the five top Taliban commanders help captive in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for Bergdahl, who disappeared while serving in Afghanistan in 2009.
Bergdahl, originally from Idaho, had been held in Pakistan and Afghanistan during that time.
“Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty,” wrote Dempsey, whose comments were the first he’s made on the release of the soldier suspected of desertion.
But he added, “our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred.”
Almost as soon as Bergdahl’s release was announced by Obama, questions arose over whether he deserted his unit in Afghanistan before he was captured by the Taliban.
Numerous members of Bergdahl’s platoon in Afghanistan said that he had made comments during his tour — sometimes questioning the U.S.’s mission in the region — that led them to believe he deserted.
Greg Leatherman, who was Bergdahl’s former squad leader, has even started a Facebook group called “Bowe Bergdahl is NOT a Hero!”.
The soldiers have said that Bergdahl’s actions put them in danger and even led to the deaths of six soldiers who were sent on search and rescue missions for him.
Desertion in wartime carries a maximum penalty of death.
Still, Dempsey was in line with the Obama administration’s decision to rescue Bergdahl, defending the exchange as “likely the last, best opportunity to free him”.
“The questions about this particular soldier’s conduct are separate from our effort to recover ANY U.S. service member in enemy captivity,” Dempsey wrote.
The public and politicians alike have expressed frustration over the decision.
Members of Congress, including former POW Arizona Sen. John McCain and Michigan U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, have been heavily critical, saying that the decision broke the law by not giving Congress the required 30-days notice that it would be conducting the exchange.
Others expressed concern that the five Taliban commanders would return to the Afghan battlefield and resume fighting against U.S. forces there.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Dempsey also said that Bergdahl’s planned promotion — from sergeant to staff sergeant — is on hold now that he’s been recovered. Soldiers in captivity are promoted automatically. While being held by the Taliban, Bergdahl was promoted from private to sergeant.