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Soldier's freedom doesn't mean his ordeal is over

ALBANY HERALD EDITORIAL: Once his recovery is established, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will have to deal with controversy over his capture

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s five years of captivity are over, his freedom purchased at what may prove to be a high price. His ordeal, however, may be going on for some time.

Citing concerns about Bergdahl’s health, the Obama administration, through the government if Qatar, worked out the deal in which Bergdahl’s freedom was secured. In exchange, the United States freed from Guantanimo and sent to Qatar a quintet of terrorists classified as “high risk” and “likely to pose a threat.” Reports say Mohammed Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Mohammed Nabi, Khairullah Khairkhwa and Abdul Haq Wasiq had been held at Gitmo since 2002. Fazl alone is accused of being responsible for the slaughter of thousands of Afghan Shiite Muslims before his capture.

Part of the deal is that the five will remain in Qatar for at least a year and will be monitored. In Afghanistan, however, the feeling is that the five ex-prisoners will soon rejoin the fight to topple the Afghan government.

While that prisoner release, which Republican lawmakers contend was illegal in that Congress was not notified 30 days in advance of the releases, is an issue between the administration and Congress, Bergdahl may have to answer some questions himself once he is cleared to do so by medical professionals.

To be clear, we are always relieved when an American citizen in military service returns home. Negotiations had gone on for years before an agreement was found that resulted in Bergdahl’s release, and it is to the credit of the Obama administration that diplomats continued to work to free this American solider. We wish him well in his recovery, both physical and mental, which will take some time. His family likens the process to the stages of decompression that a diver goes through when returning to the surface from a deep dive.

There’s little doubt that Bergdahl was disillusioned with the war in Afghanistan, though the exact circumstances of his capture remain unknown. Many U.S. officials, however, believe that he was captured by the Taliban after he walked away from his post. In 2009, a Rolling Stone article recounted emails he sent to his parents just before his capture in which he said the “future is too good to waste on lies” and that life was too short to waste “helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be American.” His words indicate a mindset that could have resulted in him walking off his post.

Regardless of whether a breakdown resulted in him deserting or whether he was captured when he fell behind his group, his disappearance placed more U.S. service personnel in immediate danger. In Afghanistan, predictability in movement courts death, and the methods that had to be employed by search teams made their movements exactly that — predictable. Six of Bergdahl’s fellow American service members were killed in the ensuing months as they searched for their missing comrade.

Army officials have indicated that they’re unlikely to pursue any disciplinary action against Bergdahl given what he has endured for the last five years. We suspect it was a hell to which few people can relate.

Still, those who risked their lives — and the families of those soldiers who lost theirs — in attempting to find Bergdahl deserve to know the truth of what happened. They are owed that, at the very least.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board