There has lately been some contention about Bowe Bergdahl, an American POW recently released in an exchange for Taliban detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay detention camp. I am still trying to sort out fact from fiction.
In June of 2012, an amazingly in-depth article by Michael Hastings about Bergdahl appeared in Rolling Stone which chronicled some of the problems in securing Bergdahl’s release. These problems included the facts that 1) Bergdahl was in a poorly lead platoon, 2) he was very critical of the way things were being handled by his superiors, 3) he had walked off base before but had always returned, 4) his potential release was causing political strife between the Obama Administration, Republican members of Congress who accused Bergdahl of being a deserter, and the Pentagon.
On May 31, 2014 the Obama Administration exchanged the Guantanamo Bay detainees for Bergdahl without properly informing Congress 30 days in advance as in accordance to law. This has ignited a wildfire of criticism from the political right wing, criticism that has spilled over onto Bergdahl himself and questions whether he was worth the efforts it took to bring him home. There have even been accusations that Bergdahl was trying to join the Taliban and growing animosity toward Bergdahl has forced his hometown to cancel his welcoming celebration.
This animosity has grown in spite of very little evidence against Bergdahl, and many of the accusations against Bergdahl are mysteriously uncorroborated by official military records. If Bergdahl was trying to “join” the Taliban he did a spectacularly bad job of it, considering that his Taliban captors seriously abused him. Moreover, it has come to light that Josh Korder, a man who served with Bergdahl in Afghanistan claiming Bergdahl was a deserter and 6 soldiers died because of Bergdahl’s actions, had himself received an ““other than honorable” discharge form the military that calls his veracity about Bergdahl into question. In contrast, Bergdahl was promoted in absentia to staff sergeant in June of 2011, although “Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Associated Press this week that Bergdahl’s promotion to staff sergeant is no longer automatic because the soldier is no longer missing in action and job performance is now taken into account”.
The political battle over Bergdahl is escalating. It is made more complex by the fact that, regardless of the back-stage quarrels over Bergdahl, “prior to Bergdahl’s release, Republican lawmakers were some of the sergeant’s biggest advocates, and repeatedly pressed the administration to do something — in fact, everything within its power — to get him returned to the United States.” They aren’t little fish splashing in a big pond either’; they are very influential and powerful Republican lawmakers. Some of the members of the GOP who were on record supporting the return of Bergdahl and are now scathing in their abhorrence of it include Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), Rep. Rich Nugent (R-Fla.), Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
It will be quite a while before Bergdahl’s side of the story can be truly known. He has been traumatized. “According to [an] official, who spoke on condition of not being identified, Bergdahl tried to escape at one point but got caught, and his captors then confined him in small enclosure described as a cage or box. At an American military hospital in Germany where he was taken after his handover near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, doctors said Friday he remained in stable condition and continued to improve, but wasn’t ready to travel back to the United States.” His doctors are adamant that “There is no predetermined time line for Sgt. Bergdahl’s recovery process … [and] The duration will continue to be based on the pace of his healing and reintegration process.”
I am waiting for LOTS more information before I start declaring Bergdahl a “hero” or a “deserter”. I suspect that the truth will lie somewhere in between.
What I can and will point out is that the Department of Defense military code of conduct and ethics assures military personnel that in the event they become a POW, “Just as you have a responsibility to your country under the Code of Conduct, the United States government has an equal responsibility — to keep faith with you and stand by you as you fight for your country. If you are unfortunate enough to become a prisoner of war, you may rest assured that your government will care for your dependents and will never forget you. Furthermore, the government will use every practical means to contact, support and gain release for you and for all other prisoners of war.”
Therefore, it doesn’t matter what Bergdahl did or why; we promised him we’d bring him home and as Commander and Chief of the US Military the POTUS had a responsibility to uphold that promise.