Probe into ex-POW Bowe Bergdahl, swopped for Taleban inmates, now over: US officials

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States Army has wrapped up its investigation into how an American soldier was captured by Taleban insurgents in 2009, and now senior officers will weigh the findings, Pentagon officials said on Friday.

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was held by militants as a prisoner of war after disappearing from his base in eastern Afghanistan. He was released in May in a swpp for Taleban inmates held at the US-run prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

After questioning Sgt Bergdahl and others, US Army investigators have finished their inquiry and now top commanders and officials have to decide on the next step, officials said.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel was due to be briefed on the findings, officials said. "The secretary has not been briefed on the results of the Bergdahl investigation. I suspect he will be, perhaps as early as this afternoon," Pentagon spokesman Rear-Admiral John Kirby said.

Army officers could conclude that Sgt Bergdahl did nothing wrong or order that he face a court martial for alleged desertion - a charge that in theory carries the death penalty, although execution would be highly unlikely.

The US Army appointed Major-General Kenneth Dahl to question the 28-year-old after President Barack Obama came under fire for releasing five Taleban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar in exchange for Bergdahl's release in May.

Mr Obama has defended the deal, saying it was an iron-clad principle for the United States to secure the release of its prisoners of war.

Some soldiers have alleged that Sgt Bergdahl walked out of his unit willingly, putting other troops at risk as they searched for him.

Their account has sparked outrage in some circles over the prisoner swap.

Sgt Bergdahl is being defended by prominent lawyer Eugene Fidell, who teaches at Yale Law School.

Mr Fidell, while declining to discuss the case in depth publicly, has said that Sgt Bergdahl was proud to wear the US uniform and has been made a scapegoat by people opposed to closing down the controversial prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

After undergoing health exams, Sgt Bergdahl has returned to duty and is working an office job at Fort Sam Houston in Texas.

The Pentagon said it was up to the Army as to whether the details of the probe would be released "It is an Army investigation, and it is Army's decision to determine what, if anything, they will do," Rear-Adm Kirby told reporters.