Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal on Wednesday urged Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s critics not to “judge” him until all the facts are in and sharply defended the extensive and risky search efforts that claimed the lives of some of his fellow soldiers.

“We did a huge number of operations to try to stop the Taliban from being able to move him across the border into Pakistan,” McChrystal told Yahoo News in an exclusive interview. “And we made a great effort and put a lot of people at risk in doing that, but that’s what you should do. That’s what soldiers do for each other.”…

“We’re going to have to wait and talk to Sgt. Bergdahl now and get his side of the story,” he said. “One of the great things about America is we should not judge until we know the facts. And after we know the facts, then we should make a mature judgment on how we should handle it.”

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While top GOP lawmakers and commentators are charging that it was wrong for the United States to barter with terrorists for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, defense officials and analysts are defending the negotiations, saying the release of the Taliban leaders is not so dire for US armed forces.

For one, the US has not designated the Taliban, which held Sergeant Bergdahl captive for five years, as a terrorist organization, in part to allow the government to make exactly such deals when it needs to, the officials and analysts note.

Second, it’s not clear how valuable, or trusted, the Taliban leaders who have been held by the US for five years will be to an organization that is rather large and not lacking in leadership, they say.

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A former chairman of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth defended Army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers from a White House charge that they are unfairly “swiftboating” the former Taliban captive by coming forward to criticize him. Bergdahl’s questionable conduct, he suggests, is analogous to that of Secretary of State John Kerry, whom the group famously opposed in the 2004 presidential election.

“Those guys had friends who died in Afghanistan like we had friends who died in Vietnam, and to allow this kind of thing to occur really does tarnish the whole memory of all those people who gave their lives,” former co-chairman John O’Neill told National Review Online. “To allow a guy like this to be posed as a hero, like Kerry self-posing as a hero, is really an affront to everybody who died there, and that’s why those guys in his platoon have come forward and that’s why we came forward 40 years ago and ten years ago.”

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White House aides were aware Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl had been tagged a deserter, and that they would be grilled over not keeping Congress in the loop. But they figured people would be most outraged over the national security implications.

The White House has been surprised by how much attention has remained on the questions about Bergdahl, from the circumstances of his disappearance to the wild beard his father grew while he was being held that’s even led to Bergdahl’s hometown canceling a celebration. All this, Obama aides say, is in their minds a proxy for the hatred toward the president.

The new PR plan: Frame the criticism as another example of Republicans complaining about something just because Obama was the one to do it…

Obama aides say they’re not worried about the prospect of weeks of segments on Fox News or hearings by a Republican House that has spent four years investigating and rebuffing the White House on issues like Solyndra and Fast and Furious.

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President Barack Obama’s goal of closing the Guantanamo Bay prison is facing re-energized opposition from Republicans and increased questioning from fellow Democrats amid widespread anger in Congress over the swap of five Taliban detainees for the last American prisoner of war in Afghanistan.

Obama appeared to advance his effort last month when a Senate panel approved greater authority for him to transfer suspected terrorists to the United States, on condition he presented a plan to close Guantanamo and Congress approved it.

But the deal that freed Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl after five years of captivity has driven a new wedge between the president and lawmakers of both parties who accuse the Obama administration of breaking the law.

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A State Department spokesman said today that the United States has not taken the position that it will never “negotiate with terrorists,” but rather that the United States will not make “concessions” to terrorists — an important distinction, in her mind, as she argued that the release of five Taliban leaders in exchange for captive Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was not a concession.

“When people are saying the U.S. does not negotiate with terrorist groups, is that statute or is that general policy?” a reporter asked deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf during Wednesday’s press briefing.

“Well, our line is that we don’t make concessions,” Harf replied. “I mean, that’s the — you’re quoting it colloquial. That’s actually not what you’ll hear us say from the podium.”

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“Save the deserter” is a recent battle cry of the politically indoctrinated brass. For much of our history, we did make some efforts to track down deserters in wartime. Then we shot or hanged them. Or, if we were in good spirits, we merely used a branding iron to burn a large D into their cheeks or foreheads. Even as we grew more enlightened, desertion brought serious time in a military prison. At hard labor…

It’s hard to believe that the resulting court-martial would not find Bergdahl guilty of desertion (although there will be heavy White House pressure to reduce the charge to Absent Without Leave, or AWOL, status, a lesser offense). If he is convicted, I for one do not want him to go to prison. I’m sure he’s paid and paid for betraying his comrades, quite possibly suffering brutal sexual violence. But if he is found guilty, he needs to be formally reduced to the rank of private, stripped of all privileges and entitlements (the taxpayer should not pay for a deserter’s lifelong health care — Bergdahl’s book and film deals can cover that), and he should be given the appropriate prison sentence, which would then be commuted by the president. Thereafter, let Mr. Bergdahl go home and live with himself.

As for President Obama, how about just one word of thanks to the families of those fallen soldiers you sent out to find Bowe Bergdahl?

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I asked former Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Navy SEAL and Medal of Honor recipient who lost part of his leg in Vietnam, these questions. His answers were more haunting than I expected. We started with the Bergdahl case.

“He’s got men in his own unit asking for him to be court-martialed,” Kerrey said. “That matters. If he had fought his way out of an ambush and then was captured by the Taliban it would be a much different deal.”…

“It’s always difficult to do an exchange like this,” Kerrey said. “It’s always risky. Does this provoke the Taliban to want to take more U.S. prisoners? I honestly don’t know. It’s unfair to any prisoner over there to say they should not be brought home. But does it increase the risk to the remaining troops in Afghanistan? I do trust [Defense Secretary] Chuck Hagel and [Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman] Martin Dempsey and I believe they have thought this through. The president may have the best of the argument on the facts. But the idea there wouldn’t be blowback, I mean, I am constantly surprised at what [the White House is] surprised about. The president can say it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter to him. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter to other people.”…

“There are so many things weighing down on these kids. [Bergdahl’s case] brings so much of it up to the surface. Maybe we should lay off on Bergdahl.”

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Click the image to watch.

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Via RCP.