WASHINGTON (AP) -- The tough military charges against Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl have revived the questions and controversy surrounding President Barack Obama's decision to swap five Taliban detainees to secure his release, as well as the wisdom of the White House fanfare that followed.
Bergdahl, who abandoned his post in Afghanistan and was held captive by the Taliban, was charged Wednesday with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The latter charge as it applies to Bergdahl carries a sentence of life in prison. If convicted on either charge, he could also be dishonorably discharged, reduced in rank and have to forfeit all pay.
Republicans cast the charges as validation of their fierce opposition to Obama's prisoner swap, which Republicans and some Democrats have long criticized as politically motivated and a flagrant violation of U.S. policy against negotiating with terrorists. Lawmakers were also furious that Obama authorized the detainees' release from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without consulting Congress, despite federal law requiring him to do so.
"Today's announcement is the exclamation point on the bad deal the Obama administration cut to free five terrorist killers in its rush to empty the prison at Guantanamo Bay," Rep. Ed Royce of California, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Wednesday.
Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the charges were sure to "raise doubts in the mind of the average American" about the initial trade for Bergdahl.
Bergdahl's attorney, Eugene Fidell, did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press. He told MSNBC that the hearing would result in much more information about the sergeant's situation.
"I think at that hearing people will learn many things that they have not yet been privy to, about Sgt. Bergdahl's conduct, his motivation, his intentions, as well as the details of his captivity at the hands of the Taliban for nearly five years," Fidell said.
The White House had no comment on the charges against the 28-year-old from Idaho, announced as a result of an "impartial review" at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The announcement upended speculation that the military might go easy on Bergdahl given his five years in Taliban captivity.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, speaking on FOX news Wednesday, defended the swap.
"I think the president's been clear that it's in our national security interest to close Gitmo but this was about bringing home an individual who served his country," Psaki said.
Bergdahl wandered away from his post on June 30, 2009, after expressing opposition to the war in general and misgivings about his own role in it. The Army sent several search and rescue teams after him. His former comrades said Bergdahl should be held responsible for several deaths that occurred during those rescue missions.
The Taliban released Bergdahl last May, five years after being captured and held by members of the affiliated Haqqani network that operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In exchange for his release, Obama swapped five men held at Guantanamo.
Bergdahl's case now goes to an Article 32 hearing, a procedure that is similar to a grand jury. No date has been set for the hearing, which will be held at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
Associated Press writers Greg Schreier in Atlanta and Donna Cassata and Charles Babington in Washington contributed to this report.
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