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Other view: Military owes its own answers on Bergdahl

If the Obama administration expected a feel-good palate cleanser with the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the last U.S. hostage in Afghanistan, reality has proved to be a cold slap that reveals a glaring disconnect between the president’s inner circle and the American military he commands.

From the president’s public embrace of Bergdahl’s parents to Susan Rice’s assertion that he “served with honor and distinction,” the optics have mystified those who knew the back story to Bergdahl’s capture in 2009.

“Honor” and “distinction” aren’t throwaway words to people in uniform. They mean something.

Barack Obama and his team were prepared for criticism of the five-for-one swap that freed a handful of top Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay. Their resonant argument was that the U.S. had a responsibility to leave no soldier behind.

Yet Obama and Rice, his national security adviser, also knew the circumstances leading to Bergdahl’s capture were anything but clear. If his own written word is to be believed, he had grown disillusioned with the Army and war effort. Men in his unit said he literally put down his rifle and walked away.

Finding him became a top priority for U.S. forces, including his unit and teams of special operators. All risked their lives amid increasing enemy fire to rescue him, and as many as eight are said to have died trying.

Further details have spilled into public view last week. Soldiers once bound by nondisclosure agreements asked why “a deserter” rated hero’s treatment when those killed or wounded looking for him were ignored. Why a soldier twice promoted undeservedly, who placed fellow Americans at greater risk, should collect back pay and go about his life.

What these soldiers demand is that the military not sweep this aside amid the closing notes of a long war. It must follow through and investigate, with fresh eyes; if Bergdahl is found guilty of a crime, he must face consequences.

There is no greater affront to the military ethos than leaving one’s post and endangering fellow soldiers.

So far, we don’t know Bergdahl’s side, beyond his email home. He deserves both a presumption of innocence and a chance to be heard.

And so, too, do the U.S. soldiers now speaking out. They cannot be dismissed as political enemies. Many put their lives on the line to search for Bergdahl; others risked danger to capture the five Taliban commanders swapped for Bergdahl.

Others, of course, never made it home. Their families deserve answers and, finally, the straight story, too.

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