73 percent say Bergdahl should face criminal charges if he deserted


This image made from video released by the Taliban and obtained by IntelCenter on Dec. 8, 2010, shows a man believed to be Bowe Bergdahl at left. (AP Photo/IntelCenter)

A majority of Americans disapprove of the deal that freed Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from his Taliban captors, and nearly three-quarters think he should face criminal charges if he deserted his unit, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The poll shows 73 percent say that, if it is shown that Bergdahl did indeed desert, he should be charged with a military crime. Twenty percent oppose charging Bergdahl. Support for such charges is nearly universal, with 70 percent of Democrats and 82 percent of Republicans agreeing.

The poll also shows Americans continue to oppose the deal that was made to exchange five Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl. Fifty-one percent disapprove of the deal, while 39 percent approve.

This is the first time a poll has shown a majority opposing the deal. Other recent polls from CBS News and the Pew Research Center have also shown opposition to the deal is higher than support.

In addition, when respondents were informed of allegations that Bergdahl deserted, opposition to the deal increases significantly, to 63 percent. In that case, just 28 percent continue to approve of the deal.

Both Republicans and independents strongly oppose the deal, regardless of how the question is asked.

Democrats, too, appear to be wavering. While they support the deal 62 to 30 percent before desertion is mentioned, they support it just 48 to 43 percent once that element is introduced into the equation.

Those who served with Bergdahl in Afghanistan have accused him of desertion and have suggested it led -- whether directly or indirectly -- to the deaths of six of the soldiers who attempted to find him for months afterward.

 

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that Bergdahl could indeed be charged after the Army conducts an investigation.

The penalties for desertion during wartime include death, but Congress never declared war in Afghanistan. Experts say he could face up to five years in prison, but some have suggested time served as a prisoner of war should reduce or eliminate such penalties for Bergdahl.

Bergdahl is still recovering from his time in captivity and has yet to speak even with his own family.

As we wrote on Thursday, the polling on Bergdahl paints a pretty grim picture for the Obama administration. This is in large part because opponents are not only more numerous; they're also more motivated.

The first question in the Post-ABC poll shows that more than twice as many Americans "strongly oppose" the deal (36 percent) as "strongly support" it (17 percent).

When desertion is mentioned, "strong support" drops even further, to less than 13 percent of all Americans.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
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