Hagel: 'I Do Not Know' If U.S. Soldiers Died Trying to Find Bergdahl

By Susan Jones | June 5, 2014 | 6:57 AM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. defense secretary says he doesn't know if Americans died trying to rescue Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who walked away from his base in Afghanistan five years ago.

"I do not know of specific circumstances or details of U.S. soldiers dying as a result of efforts to find and rescue Sergeant Bergdahl," Hagel said at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday. "I am not aware of those specific details or any -- any facts regarding that -- that issue."

Several of Bowe Bergdahl's platoon mates have called him a deserter who deserves to be court-martialed. In their various appearances on a number of TV news shows this week, they have said at least six U.S. troops died on missions that included looking for Bergdahl.

"I can't prove that he caused deaths," Bergdahl's platoon mate Cody Full told Fox News on Monday. "What I can prove is those soldiers would not have been there at that location that they died or were severely injured. There is a high probability that they would not be there looking for him if he didn't desert because then, we wouldn't have a mission to find him."

But Hagel on Wednesday said he still doesn't know the details. He said the Army "will conduct a comprehensive review of all the circumstances regarding Sergeant Bergdahl's disappearance. And I think I would leave it there. Let's get the facts, but let's first focus on getting Sergeant Bergdahl well, getting his health back, getting him reunified with his family."

Asked if the criticism of Bergdahl is warranted, Hagel said, "Until we get the facts, until we have...a review of all the circumstances, it's not in the interest of anyone, and certainly I think a bit unfair to Sergeant Bergdahl's family and to him to presume anything. We don't do that in the United States. We rely on facts."

The "facts," as relayed on the Sunday talk shows by National Security Adviser Susan Rice, are that Bergdahl served honorably:

"Sergeant Bergdahl wasn't simply a hostage; he was an American prisoner of war captured on the battlefield," National Security Adviser Susan Rice asserted Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

"He served the United States with honor and distinction. And we'll have the opportunity eventually to learn what has transpired in the past years, but what's most important now is his health and well-being, that he have the opportunity to recover in peace and security and be reunited with his family, which is why this is such a joyous day," Rice told George Stephanopoulos.

On Wednesday, Hagel told reporters not to forget that Bergdahl is a member of the United States Armed Forces. "The United States of America has and always will have a responsibility for getting its soldiers back. Other questions and facts regarding Sergeant Bergdahl will be dealt with at a later time."

Reports from Germany on Wednesday said Bergdahl is still in a U.S. military hospital there, but there have been no updates on his condition, nor will reporters be told when Bergdahl is transferred to the United States, NBC News reported.