WASHINGTON -- Republicans have been impugning the character of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in their criticism of the prisoner swap that freed him. But the heartbroken dad of a slain Army lieutenant on Wednesday showed how hard and subjective it is to decide whether a soldier is worthy of the "leave no one behind" credo.
Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Andy Andrews, of Texas, said he was told by the military that his son Darryn Andrews was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade during a search for a high-value Taliban leader in 2009. But he said in the hearing, entitled "The Bergdahl Exchange: Implications for U.S. National Security and the Fight Against Terrorism," that soldiers told him and his wife after Bergdahl was freed that their son had died searching for Bergdahl.
Some of Bergdahl's fellow soldiers have insisted he deserted, although the Army has not finished its investigation. Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban, and held for more than five years by the affiliated Haqqani network terrorist group.
Andrews appeared at the hearing to wonder why his son, who was awarded a silver star for saving others in the attack that killed him, gave his life for a possible deserter, only to have Bergdahl rescued in a prisoner swap that freed five high-ranking members of the Taliban from Guantanamo Bay.
As the hearing wound down, after numerous Republicans declared that they had heard enough to brand Bergdahl a deserter, Andrews was asked for his thoughts by Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas).
"My son was a soldier's soldier," Andrews said. "It doesn't matter what the assignment was, he was going to do it. And I don't believe that you have to be a perfect person to follow the military code of justice. You have a book right there. Read the book and do what it says. It's not that complicated. But do not let my son -- to me, this situation with us not being told the whole truth and then trading a private for five high-ranking Taliban -- exactly why did my son die? Tell me one more time. Because I don't know what we've accomplished."
Weber pressed for more, getting Andrews to say he would tell President Barack Obama the same thing. And to put an exclamation point on Republican arguments that no trade was worth freeing five enemies, Weber pushed again, getting the bereft dad to choke up.
"Now the hard question, so forgive me. if you could get your son back by trading five more of those senior Taliban ..." Weber said, tailing off as Andrews gave an audible gasp.
But the answer was only "no," if his son had done what Republicans allege Bergdahl did.
"If my son had been a deserter, then no, absolutely not. But my son was a man of honor, and I would do almost anything," Andrews said, barely able to finish the sentence.
Bowe Bergdahl's family probably feels the same, and indeed tried for years to win his release, often with the backing of Republicans who once championed his cause. And whether Bergdahl was worth saving -- by the criteria Republicans were laying down Wednesday -- couldn't actually be known until after he was rescued, and explained why he disappeared. Military officials have not said when they will finish the investigation.
Watch the exchange above.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.