- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2014

ArmySgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who spent nearly five years as a Taliban captive in Afghanistan, was returned to regular duty Monday, a development that one key lawmaker said keeps open the possibility that he may be charged in a military court martial with deserting his unit in Afghanistan in 2009.

“In order to charge him or deal with him in the military justice system, he needs to be a uniformed and serving member of the Armed Forces,” Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and a member of the House Armed Services Committee said Monday.

Mr. Hunter said the timing of the Pentagon’s announcement regarding Sgt. Bergdahl’s status was “really odd,” and that the development could best be explained by concern among senior military officials that discharging the soldier from the Army could complicate the Defense Department’s ability to pursue potential charges against him.

The Pentagon promoted Sgt. Bergdahl in rank during his five years in captivity and never discharged him. It was unclear Monday whether an official discharge would have precluded the Army from pursuing a future court martial against him.

Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren pushed back against Mr. Hunter’s comments, saying that military officials are merely moving Sgt. Bergdahl through a regimented Army-led reintegration process.

“We’ve said from the beginning that the ultimate goal of reintegration is to return a soldier to active duty in the Army,” Col. Warren said.

SEE ALSO: POW group takes flak for backing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl

In another odd development in the case, the Pentagon suggested Sgt. Bergdahl, 28, has had no contact with his parents since arriving at Joint U.S. Military Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in Texas on June 13.

He was moved to the base after nearly two weeks recuperating at a military hospital in Germany, following his release from captivity.

Sgt. Bergdahl’s parents, who live in Hailey, Idaho, had led a public campaign for his release from captivity and appeared beside President Obama in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 31 to announce his return. Questions swirled Monday over what, if any role, Bob and Jani Bergdahl have since played in their son’s recovery.

The Pentagon declined to comment on whether Sgt. Bergdahl has, or has not sought to speak with them — saying only that the family has requested the matter be kept private.

The Army said in a statement that Sgt. Bergdahl is now assigned to Fort Sam Houston, although his exact administrative duties were not immediately disclosed.

Military officials said he is not restricted in any way and that in recent days he was allowed to go, with supervision, to a grocery store, restaurants, shopping centers and a library as part of the process of getting him comfortable with being out in public.

The Army also said that an investigation into the circumstances of Sgt. Bergdahl’s disappearance and subsequent capture by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan will continue and that disciplinary action has not been ruled out.

Military investigators will not interview Sgt. Bergdahl until those helping him recover say it is all right to do so, the Army said.

Sgt. Bergdahl walked away from his unit in 2009 after expressing misgivings about the U.S. military’s role — as well as his own — in Afghanistan. He was later captured by Taliban members and held by the Haqqani network.

Some former members of his unit have labeled him a deserter and said U.S. soldiers were wounded or killed while searching for him following his disappearance.

The case has been shrouded in controversy since the Obama administration revealed that in exchange for Sgt. Bergdahl’s release, Washington had transferred to Qatar five former Taliban commanders from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Mr. Hunter said Monday that he was perplexed by the Pentagon’s latest announcement about Sgt. Bergdahl.

“The timing is really odd,” the former Marine Corps captain said in a statement.

“On one hand, the Army went ahead and built some high fences around Bergdahl — to the extent that very few inside the Army were even permitted to speak about the situation,” Mr. Hunter said. “On the other, the Army believes his recovery has practically exceeded expectations and he’s ready to return to active duty.”

“If he’s ready for active duty, then he’s ready for other things outside a controlled environment, but none of it should alter the Army’s responsibility to investigate and investigate thoroughly,” he added. “One possibility is that the Army is retaining its options until the investigations are complete.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports

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