Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held by the Afghan Taliban for five years, returned to active duty Monday, 1-1/2 months after his controversial release. A big unanswered question now is whether he will yet face desertion charges.
This move renders Bergdahl a normal, full-duty soldier, marking the final step in the sergeant’s reintegration process since his May 31 transfer into American hands as part of a hotly debated prisoner-exchange deal.
Questions remain, however, as to whether Bergdahl will yet face a court martial for desertion, and the sergeant remains a controversial figure among politicians and military officials, some of whom continue to criticize the circumstances that led to his release – as well as the conduct of Bergdahl himself.
The sergeant’s recovery began shortly after his release from the Afghan Taliban at the end of May. The Army quickly transferred him to a military hospital in Germany, then to the Fort Sam Houston military base in San Antonio. There, he underwent treatment by specially trained military psychologists for two weeks – during which time he was sequestered in his hospital room, isolated from most human contact, and forbidden from consuming media.
On June 23, Bergdahl became an "outpatient," meaning he was free to roam the base, and his social interactions were much increased. In recent weeks, he has even been spotted off base – at a library, a supermarket, fast-food chains, and nearby stores.
As part of his return to active duty, Bergdahl will perform a number of standard duties for soldiers, and share a barracks with two other soldiers who will help him readjust, The New York Times reports. The Army described his work Monday at Fort Sam Houston as "administrative" in nature.
Throughout this recovery period, several House Republicans have expressed concerns that the release of Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban prisoners held at the US terrorism detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, came at too high a cost.
“You can’t negotiate with terrorists, and these five guys, just by their titles … [are] arguably the most dangerous of the 149 left in Gitmo,” Sen. James Inhofe (R) of Oklahoma said on June 3.
Members of Bergdahl’s former Army unit have also chimed in, with several saying he is a deserter who imperiled soldiers sent to search for him. (Bergdahl is currently assigned to a different unit.)
“I think it’s very clear he deserted his post,” Sgt. Evan Buetow told FoxNews.com. “He thought about what he was doing, he mailed some things home, he walked away and we have witnesses who saw him walking away.”
According to the Army, the matter isn’t so clear-cut. A probe in the months after Bergdahl’s 2009 disappearance concluded that he did leave his unit deliberately and by his own free will, but the charge of desertion requires that investigators know Bergdahl’s intent. This determination is impossible until officials interview Bergdahl, which will likely be the last step in the investigation, an unnamed source told CNN.
Army officials have also defended the Bergdahl deal in response to a recent request by Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan for their opinion on the matter. Among those who expressed support for the move were the Army’s Chief of Staff, Gen. Raymond Odierno, and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Adm. James Winnefeld.
“Each of these military leaders emphasized a simple principle,” Senator Levin said on July 11. “America does not leave its troops behind.”
This report includes material from The Associated Press.