Welcome home Bowe Berghdahl, we are all glad you are back in the US where you belong. You are now charged with desertion, dereliction of duty and absence without leave. There will be a full investigation to determine if charges of aiding and abetting the enemy, or even treason are warranted. Further, you are charged with being the cause of the death of not less than six Americans. Other charges may arise. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a guilty verdict in a court-martial for these charges is subject to a sentence of death. How do you plead?
This may seem harsh to some, even heartless and unfeeling. Most civilians are shocked that this is the feeling of much of the military and veteran community. Or they would be, if they knew. For now, the mainstream media is in a joyous feeding frenzy over the fact that the only living American POW has been released.
Even Army Times and Stars and Stripes’ editors seem surprised at the reaction of their readers, the majority of whom are active duty personnel. But really, the only surprise is how the majority of the military and veteran community has kept mostly quiet about their true feelings until now. I even wrote about it back in September of 2012, but intentionally steered completely away from discussing the circumstances of his capture. The time for those discussions was after we had him back.
There was never a question that the priority was to get him back, simply because he was an American being held prisoner. He was a living, breathing, walking and talking PR tool for Al-Qaeda, the Haqqani and Taliban. The hope had always been that he would be found, those who were holding him would be killed and he would be returned to the US. The idea that we would conduct a prisoner exchange, ala the Israelis was a fear hoped against.
Even with these feelings, consideration for the suffering of his family was always front and center. We have had tens of thousands of families left wondering and worrying about the fate of their loved ones, those who were classified as POW’s or MIA. This is a pain none wish on the family, a pain there was no need to compound with discussions of how this particular individual ended up in enemy hands while he was still missing.
Whenever his name came up in conversations, the response was always that he was one of ours, that we leave no man behind and we must get him back. Having him remain in the hands of the enemy was an insult to the code of honor that is so much a part of the military culture. When we got him back, we’d address those questions, not before. Now, the gloves are off. Now, the truth can come out. Yes, this will be painful for his family but they have been given every consideration until now. And they have always known he was, at least initially, a willing participant in his capture.
Interestingly, the details of his release are getting some media play, and not all of it complimentary to this administration. The President has been quick to say that we did not negotiate with terrorists, something that is strictly against our laws. Instead, Obama and others have talked about how the Emir of Qatar used his influence to convince the terrorists to hand over Bergdahl. And we didn’t release five of the worst, most hardened Jihadi’s; we gave them into the custody of the Emir.
It is not in our power to tell the Emir what to do with them once he has them. But it doesn’t matter because we first made them promise to never again take up arms against us or our allies. We know that will work. We even made them pinky swear.
Our Commander in Chief didn’t break our laws by negotiating with terrorists. Nor did he break the law by not notifying Congress not less than 30 days in advance of releasing Guantanamo detainees. They weren’t released. Their custody was transferred to Qatar, one of our Allies in the War on Terror.
The self-imposed understandings of the need to remain relatively quiet about the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture so as not to give the enemy more fuel is not felt when it comes to expressions of the feelings regarding the circumstances of his release. Now, responses along the lines of, we have just put a price on the head of every American service member, is standard. As is the feeling that at least the American soldier is valued at five times that of each Jihadi. There is some pride in that sentiment; it takes five of theirs to equal one of ours. These statements seem, even to the speakers, a lot like whistling in a grave yard.
To understand how sentiment has seemingly turned so quickly against Bergdahl, what is known about his capture must be understood.
It seems young PFC Bergdahl became disenchanted with Army life. As has been said repeatedly by those who know him, by the words he himself put in writing in letters and emails to his family prior to June of 2009, the Army is not the Peace Corp with guns. He felt he wasn’t doing what he intended, so he decided to go off into the mountains to find himself.
So, he shipped his personal belongings back to his family in Idaho. Then, he simply walked off the base, taking only some water and a knife, leaving behind his rifle and all his gear. He went to at least one nearby village, asking for water and directions to where the Taliban were. Some of those villagers granted his wish. I wonder how long it took him to figure out that the Taliban had as much interest in helping him ‘find himself’ as did the Army.
Over the next days, weeks and months, his unit searched for him. Thus the saga of the only living American POW in the War on Terror began.
There is yet another part of this story that is not being talked about in the main stream media. Truly, it is the most important piece and the reason the majority are calling for Bergdahl’s court-martial. Every newscast about Bergdahl should also be publicizing the names of the six soldiers from his unit that were killed in action while hunting for him.
Personally, I am happy for Bob and Jani Bergdahl. Their son is alive. They get to wrap their arms around their son, but they do so knowing his actions are the reason the families of PFC Morris Walker, PFC Matthew Martinek, SSG Clayton Bowen, SSG Kurt Curtiss, SSG Michael Murphrey and 2LT Darryn Andrews welcomed home a flag-draped coffin.
It is the families of these six men for whom I feel the most sorrow. My heart also extends to all those who were injured, many critically and with life-long consequences in the search for this one soldier whose selfishness put so many at risk.
Still, I can’t help but also feel sorry for the parents of Bergdahl. They have to live with the knowledge their son betrayed every oath he took as a soldier of the United States Army, an oath these men and so many others honored. An oath those other soldiers honored with their lives in the efforts to get their son back.
As for Bowe Bergdahl, I feel no pity at all. Yes, he spent nearly five years living with the enemy under circumstances that probably didn’t resemble a Club Med vacation. But, he found himself in those circumstances by his choice, due to his selfish actions. The fact that things didn’t work out the way he hoped garners no sympathy from me. Even while a prisoner, even if he wasn’t treated very well, he had hope. As did his family. The families of those six men have been stripped of all hope. All they have is the cold, hard reality that their sons are never coming home. But, Bowe Bergdahl lived and lives still.
There is one other part of this story that has not, and many cynically feel will not, get fair airing. It is the fact that less than twenty-four hours before the release of this deserter-turned-POW, VA Secretary General Eric Shinseki resigned amidst the biggest scandal yet to hit this administration. That shocking, breaking news story was immediately followed by the resignation of long-time Press Secretary Jay Carney.
Does anyone believe the timing of those two resignations was not intentional? Does anyone believe the release of the only living prisoner of war from these current conflicts is the one piece of news that could push the VA scandal off the front page? Does anyone actually believe that our President is not wagging the dog?
The worst part of all this is the feeling that because this administration desperately needs a public relations win, there won’t be an Article 15-6 regarding Bowe Bergdahl. The prediction that Bergdahl will be debriefed and quietly discharged is probably accurate. Already there is talk that whatever the circumstances that led to his capture, having spent nearly five years as a prisoner of war is sufficient punishment for any transgressions.
The families of PFC Morris Walker, PFC Matthew Martinek, SSG Clayton Brown, SSG Kurt Curtiss, SSG Michael Murphrey and 2LT Darryn Andrews and all those who face life-long injuries deserve more. The worst irony of all is that those who were injured now get to suffer the consequences of being cared for by the same VA system that was the front page scandal just twenty four hours ago. A scandal that suddenly isn’t important anymore because the reason for the missions on which they were injured is being brought home.
If for no other reason, there needs to be a full investigation to determine what if any information Bergdahl gave the enemy. That is a valid question, particularly to those men of the 1-501 PIR who battled the Taliban and Haqqani in the days since June, 2009; an enemy that suddenly changed tactics and for the first time seemed to know the strengths and weaknesses, the tactics and ROE of our troops.
The Uniform Code of Military Justice is explicit. Any person found guilty of desertion or attempt to desert shall be punished, if the offense is committed in time of war, by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct. The UCMJ is also quite explicit regarding the duty of the President as Commander in Chief; he is required by law, under the oaths he swore to implement the provisions of the UCMJ.
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