March 25, 2015

Bergdahl - the Army does the right thing

U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl (here as a Private First Class)

It has taken too long, but finally we have criminal charges filed against U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Today Bergdahl's lawyer was provided documents charging the former Taliban captive with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. I will let the lawyers discuss the actual charges - I will limit my remarks to the fact that charges have been proffered.

The Army, no doubt following instructions that likely emanated from the White House, only today announced what it had decided months ago. The delay in making the charges public stems from the mishandling of the Bergdahl case since the Administration made the decision - ill-advised in my opinion - to exchange five senior Taliban officials being held at the detention facility in Guantanamo, Cuba, in return for an American soldier who walked off his post in Afghanistan in June 2009.

Despite the delay, there is no chance of distancing the White House from what can only be described as gaffes. First and foremost was the spectacle of President Obama hosting Bergdahl's parents in a Rose Garden ceremony announcing the release of five of the most senior Taliban detainees in U.S. custody for the return of their son. The President's remarks seemed to paint Bergdahl as a hero rather than a soldier suspected of desertion. It is inconceivable that the President, the Commander in Chief, was unaware of the circumstances of Bergdahl's disappearance from his unit at a forward outpost in Afghanistan.

President Obama with Bergdahl's parents at the White House

When it became obvious the American public did not support the Administration's decision to release five dangerous terrorists for what many observers believe is a deserter, the White House sent National Security Advisor Susan Rice out on the talk show circuit to make their case.

Rice's infamous quote will no doubt be replayed juxtaposed with an Army colonel reading the charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
- Rice: "He served the United States with honor and distinction...."
- Colonel John King: "The U.S. Army Forces Command...formally charged Sergeant Bergdahl with desertion ... and misbehavior in front of the enemy...."

Perhaps the Administration should limit Ambassador Rice's public appearances - add this to her assertions that the attack on the U.S. facilities in Benghazi was in reaction to a video, and claims that Turkey had decided to allow coalition use of their airbases for airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq - both proven to be false. Combined with the almost surreal Rose Garden ceremony, it is understandable why the White House wanted to delay this announcement of the decision to charge Bergdahl with desertion.

Soon after the news broke that the Army was pressing charges against Bergdahl, Bergdahl's lawyer released a statement purportedly from Bergdahl himself detailing the conditions of his captivity at the hands of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network. There is neither doubt nor argument that Bergdahl suffered terribly during his five year ordeal.

It was an ordeal of his own making, however. In June 2009, Bergdahl walked off his post after detailing in writing his intentions to leave. These writings, as well as emails with his father, will be used as strong evidence against him.

I applaud the U.S. Army decision to move forward with this case and charge Bergdahl. Despite the suffering he endured, that was after he had made the decision to desert his comrades in arms.

When Bergdahl walked off his post, he committed the worst crime in the profession of arms - leaving his fellow troops. Those same troops then had to place themselves in the dangerous situation of halting ongoing operations to begin an intense search effort. There are claims, which the Administration denies, that several soldiers were killed in an unnecessary search operation triggered by Bergdahl's decision to leave his post.

Whatever the outcome of the court-martial - if there is one - the Army owes it to all of its soldiers to hold its troops accountable for their actions. Bowe Bergdahl will have his day in court to tell his side of the story. Soldiers hold their own to high standards - they will determine if Bergdahl failed to meet those standards.

My compliments to the U.S. Army leadership for doing the right thing.
See my previous writings on the Bergdahl case:
- The Bowe Bergdahl exchange - a mixed blessing (June 2014)
- Military chiefs support the release of the "Taliban Five" for Sergeant Bergdahl - well, sort of.... (July 2014)