- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2014

The White House defended Monday President Obama’s decision to use a high-profile Rose Garden event to announce the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, in spite of the soldier’s well-known status inside the government as a possible deserter.

White House deputy press secretary Joshua Earnest said Mr. Obama’s announcement on May 31 at the White House, where he walked arm-in-arm with Sgt. Bergdahl’s parents, was intended as a “powerful” message to all who wear the uniform. He said the president wanted to send a “signal” of support to all U.S. troops.

“He made a statement, a very simple but profound statement, about the commitment of the United States government being rock-solid and unbreakable,” Mr. Earnest said. “If you put on the military uniform of this country, you will not be left behind. That was a very powerful thing for the president to say.”

The president, who has endured a storm of criticism this spring for neglecting veterans’ health care, announced the deal to gain Sgt. Bergdahl’s release the day after he accepted the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. But the “good news” announcement about a U.S. prisoner of war coming home soon was overshadowed by stories about Sgt. Bergdahl’s possible desertion five years ago in Afghanistan, and criticism of the prisoner exchange that resulted in five top Taliban fighters being released from U.S. custody.

Sgt. Bergdahl, 28, has told people treating him at a U.S. military medical facility in Germany that he was tortured, beaten and held in a cage by his Taliban captors. Administration officials said they made the deal for his release swiftly, without giving Congress the required 30 days’ notice, out of concern that the soldier’s health was deteriorating.

Mr. Earnest said the president “didn’t have to do [the Bergdahl announcement] at the Rose Garden,” but wanted to emphasize the principle of America’s commitment to its troops.

“It’s an important principle for people in this country to understand,” he said. “It’s important for people who wear the military uniform to understand and it’s an important principle for people all across the world to understand. It was made more powerful by having the parents of Sergeant Bergdahl standing next to the president when he delivered that statement.”

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