Bowe Bergdahl's ex-comrades tell their side of the story on Capitol Hill
(CNN) — Emotions ran high Wednesday at a hearing on Capitol Hill to examine the circumstances surrounding Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's capture by the Taliban in 2009 and the deal that led to his release in late May.
Bergdahl was captured after he walked off his base in Afghanistan's Paktika province, and several of his former platoon-mates have since accused Bergdahl of desertion and endangering the lives of his comrades.
Spc. Cody Full, who was Bergdahl's roommate before their deployment and served closely with him at the base, said at the hearing that he has no doubt Bergdahl deserted and that the desertion was pre-meditated.
"Knowing that someone you needed to trust deserted you in war and did so on his own free will is the ultimate betrayal," Full told members of two subcommittees of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Mike Waltz, who commanded an Army Special Forces unit in eastern Afghanistan when Bergdahl was captured, told subcommittee members that all military resources in that part of the country were redirected to search for Bergdahl and that the Taliban capitalized on that effort to launch attacks.
"They began feeding false information into our informant network in order to lure our forces into a trap," Waltz said.
Waltz, who is now a senior national security fellow with the New America Foundation, added that if "someone was killed during that specific amount of time, unless they tripped and hit their head on the way to the mess hall, they were out looking for Sgt. Bergdahl."
Members of Bergdahl's former platoon have said at least six soldiers were killed searching for him, including 2nd Lt. Darryn Andrews, whose father Andy Andrews also testified at Wednesday's hearing.
"Exactly why did my son die?" Andrews asked. "Tell me one more time because I don't know what we've accomplished."
Darryn Andrews was killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack while his unit was attempting to recover a disabled vehicle. Another soldier, Pfc. Matthew Martinek, was also killed in the attack. Andrews was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions in that attack, which are credited with having saved the lives of several fellow soldiers.
The military told Andrews' parents their son was killed searching for a high-ranking Taliban commander. Andy Andrews insists "Bergdahl was never mentioned."
But since the POW's release, he said, six soldiers have approached the family with the revelation their son was actually searching for Bergdahl when he died.
The military has not confirmed this version of events, and at a hearing last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he had seen "no evidence that directly links any American combat death to the rescue or finding or search of Sergeant Bergdahl."
Bergdahl was freed in exchange for five Taliban leaders previously held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Administration officials have defended that deal despite criticisms that the exchange was lopsided and that Congress was not consulted.
Last week, the Army appointed a two-star general to investigate the circumstances behind Bergdahl's capture. Public accounts have varied widely, from those saying he walked away from the outpost to claims he was taken from a latrine.
At Wednesday's hearing, members on both sides of the aisle accused the other side of politicizing the case.
Democrat Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida accused his Republican colleagues of flip-flopping on the issue.
"Many members of Congress who are now saying they oppose this deal supported the very idea of a prisoner exchange and were urging the administration to do more" to secure Bergdahl's release, Deutch said.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, urged caution to those attacking Bergdahl's record.
"This is about somebody's service," said Connolly, "and we should withhold judgment on the quality and nature of that service until the facts are known."
"The benefit of the doubt belongs to Mr. Bergdahl," Connolly added.
President Obama urged the same restraint earlier this month, when he told reporters he makes "absolutely no apologies" for authorizing the exchange.
"We have a basic principle," he said. "We do not leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind."
Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis, however, said the administration is touting Bergdahl as a hero "to divert the public's attention from the price that we paid," referring to the five released Taliban detainees.
He and others have criticized the President for hosting Bergdahl's parents at the White House, and for comments made by members of his administration celebrating Bergdahl's release.
In particular, National Security Adviser Susan Rice has come under fire for saying that Sgt. Bergdahl served "with honor and distinction."
Full addressed that comment directly on Wednesday.
"Bowe Bergdahl should not be characterized as having served with 'honor and distinction,'" said Full, who said that he was motivated to speak out because he was offended by the "hero's welcome" given to Bergdahl, which he said was not extended to those who died searching for him.
In perhaps the most poignant moment of the hearing, Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, asked Andy Andrews whether, given the option, he would be willing to trade five senior Taliban leaders to have his son back.
"If my son had been a deserter, then no," Andrews said. "Absolutely not."
"But my son was a man of honor," he continued, fighting back tears, "and I would do almost anything."
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