Bergdahl release ignites political controversy

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was captured in 2009. (Photo courtesy U.S.  Army)

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was captured in 2009. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army)

Former Fort Richardson soldier Bowe Bergdahl was released over the weekend from nearly five years in captivity in Afghanistan. Both of Alaska’s U.S. senators issued warm statements welcoming the news, but in Washington, the price paid for Bergdahl’s release and questions about how he became separated from his unit are igniting a political firestorm.

Allegations that Bergdahl walked away from his unit because he was bitter about U.S. conduct in the war have been public since a 2012 Rolling Stone article, based on interviews with fellow soldiers and his emails home. Bergdahl reportedly told several people he might leave and head into the mountains of Afghanistan, and maybe walk from there to India. On military social media sites, some are calling him a deserter.

Still, Sen. Lisa Murkowski says the decision to release five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Bergdahl was the right call.

“I do think that it was appropriate that we not leave any servicemen behind. It’s what we do as a nation, so we were going to make sure that Sgt. Bergdahl was brought back home.”

Murkowski says the facts of how he was captured can come to light later. Sen. Mark Begich also says he won’t speculate about whether Bergdahl should face any punishment.

“I don’t know that, but I’m just glad that he’s back to be reunited with his family.”

But Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a former prisonAer of war, says it was wrong of the Obama Administration to trade Bergdahl for the release of five Taliban, who he called the worst of the worst. McCain says it’s a dangerous precedent.

“The question is … by getting the return of Sgt. Bergdahl are you placing in danger the lives of Americans in the future, and I believe you are.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham says he’s also concerned about reports that Bergdahl may have deserted but he says he won’t judge the man based on what little is known so far.

“I want a professional independent investigation by the appropriate military authorities … to find out what labels apply to Sgt. Bergdahl … but I want to understand what happened.”

The Senate Armed Services Committee, including senators McCain and Graham, is scheduled to hear a closed door briefing about the prisoner exchange next week.