US & Canada

US defends Bowe Bergdahl swap amid desertion charges

Sgt Bowe Bergdahl Image copyright Reuters

The US has defended a prisoner swap with the Taliban for the release of Sgt Bowe Bergdahl after the US soldier was charged with desertion.

State department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US had a commitment to "do everything" to bring troops home.

Sgt Bergdahl says his five years in captivity - after walking off base - were in "constant isolation" with all four limbs chained for long periods.

A hearing will determine whether he will face a court-martial.

He could then be sentenced to life in prison if found guilty.

The US Army announced on Wednesday Sgt Bergdahl had been charged with one count of desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty and one count of misbehaviour before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place after an investigation into his disappearance.

Sgt Bergdahl was handed over to a team of US special forces last May.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Sgt Bergdahl said he had been chained by all four limbs for months at a time

In exchange for his release, five senior Taliban commanders held at Guantanamo Bay were transferred to the custody of the Gulf state of Qatar, which brokered the deal.

His release enraged Republicans and some Democrats, who said that the prisoner swap could ultimately put American lives at risk.

Top Congressional Republicans argued the deal violated US law and amounted to negotiating with terrorists - accusations denied by the Obama administration. They also objected to the fact Congress was not given notice of the deal.

Speaking to Fox News on Wednesday, Ms Psaki defended the swap.

"We have a commitment to our men and women serving in our military... that we are going to do everything to bring them home," she said.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Sgt Bergdahl was rescued by special forces in May

Sgt Bergdahl could spend up to five years in prison if convicted on the desertion charge. A conviction on the misbehaviour charge carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

In a statement made through his lawyer, Sgt Bergdahl detailed the conditions of his captivity, saying he had been chained by all four limbs for months at a time, his captors only temporarily releasing one hand so he could sit up.

"Because of the constant heat and sweat my body where it was in contact with the bed would become sore and raw, burning from the sweat and pressure," he wrote.

Sgt Bergdahl said he was "kept in constant isolation during the entire five years, with little to no understanding of time", developed open wounds that would not heal from his shackles and was eventually kept in cage without chains.

The US soldier said he had attempted to escape 12 times over five years - and was beaten after being temporarily successful twice.

More on this story