The Bergdahl case is similar to American Sniper: it is a Rorschach Test that reliably separates the progressive from the non-progressive.
After months of investigation, the Army bucked the pressure from the White House, and charged Bergdahl with desertion, and misbehavior in the face of the enemy. The sentiment in the military, and in particular among the soldiers in Bergdahl’s unit, is strongly supportive of the court martial. The right by and large shares this sentiment. The left, not so much.
Sergeant Bergdahl, who joined the Army in 2008, was among the legion of recruits who were granted eligibility waivers to join the military during a period when it was struggling to attract applicants because of the multiple lengthy deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan that were common. His attempt in 2006 to join the Coast Guard was short-lived; he was discharged 26 days into basic training because of concerns about his psychological state. Before Sergeant Bergdahl walked out of his base in Paktika Province on June 30, 2009, it was clear to some of his family members back home, and some of his comrades in Afghanistan, that he was emotionally distressed and at times delusional. Citing an Army investigative report, his lawyer, in a letter to the military, describes his client as “naïve and at times unrealistic.”
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But trying him for desertion and misbehaving before the enemy — for allegedly engaging in misconduct that endangered his unit — stands to accomplish little at this point. A conviction would most likely deprive a traumatized veteran of benefits, including medical care, which he will probably need for years. A dishonorable discharge would make it harder to rebuild his life as a civilian.
In fact, one of the things that angers veterans most about Bergdahl is the possibility that he would get the same benefits as they do for dedicated service. They embraced the suck, and didn’t run. Giving the same benefits to a man they consider a deserter-and whom they blame for resulting in the deaths of those that served honorably-devalues them in their eyes.
If Bergdahl has a defense-including an insanity defense-he can make it at a court martial. If there are extenuating circumstances, those can be taken into consideration when determining punishment (if he is found guilty). But the good order and discipline of the service require that he face judgment. The Code of Conduct should matter. Accountability should matter.
But the NYT is not the real problem. The problem is from within the administration. It continues to push the view, expressed by Susan Rice immediately after the deal that secured Bergdahl’s release, that Bergdahl served honorably and that we always get our soldiers back, whatever the price. Most notably, the nauseating Jen Psaki said this:
“Was it worth it? Absolutely,” Jen Psaki told Megyn Kelly on Fox News’ “The Kelly File.” “We have a commitment to our men and women serving in the military, defending our national security every day, that we’re going to do everything to bring them home if we can, and that’s what we did in this case.”
Yes. She really said that. You can watch the video. Remarkable, isn’t it?
If the charges are correct, Bergdahl did not defend our national security. Quite to the contrary: he abandoned his duty to defend national security. Desertion is the antithesis of defending, making Psaki’s statement quite Orwellian. Slavery is freedom. Deserting is defending.
There is also the issue of what damage was done to national security by trading away five truly dangerous Taliban for Bergdahl. That we should attempt to secure soldiers that have fallen into enemy hands does not mean that we should pay any price. That can endanger more soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines than it saves.
This is yet another example of the administration’s government by narrative. They construct some story, some narrative, that is at complete variance with the facts but which serves a political purpose. Then they relentlessly repeat this narrative, even in the face of incredulous questions. (Yemen is another example: more on that over the weekend.)
But the three tweets from CNN’s National Security desk reference two defense officials who say Bergdahl walked off his post to “report what he believed to be problems with ‘order and discipline’ in his unit.” The direct quote from the “second official” reinforces the impression that he and his colleague are speaking to Starr on background, and that rather than merely reporting what Bergdahl “says,” they are endorsing a version of events that is in Bergdahl’s legal favor.
The Army officers charged with investigating this have reached the exact opposite conclusion. They have determined, after a long-and indeed, overlong-investigation that the facts support a charge of desertion. They no doubt weighed, and rejected, the arguments the “senior officials” are raising. Meaning that said “senior officials” should STFU and let the duly constituted authorities carry out their duty.
If these individuals are indeed “senior”, their leaks can be viewed as an attempt to exert command influence, and thereby subvert justice. The administration’s public statements also smack of command influence, as do the White House’s efforts to pressure the military into not prosecuting Bergdahl.
This should have been a military matter first, last, and always. But after politicizing the release with the egregious deal that secured it, and the equally egregious Rose Garden ceremony with Bergdahl’s parents, Obama and his creatures are so invested in this flawed man that they cannot let the proper authorities perform their duty without interference.
This defense of Bergdahl for political reasons is a profound insult to those who served honorably. If anyone should value a “commitment . . . to do everything to bring them home”, it is these men and women. But they obviously believe a distinction should be made between those who are captured while performing their duty, and someone who deliberately runs into the enemy’s camp. The deserter abandons his comrades, and has no claim on his comrades-or his country-to rescue him. And if his freedom is secured somehow, that should not immunize him from accountability for his actions.
Trying to short-circuit formal proceedings also casts a slur on the military. It suggests that the Army is incapable of judging fairly, and taking extenuating circumstances into account when passing sentence in the even that judgment is guilty.
There is clearly a colorable case that Bergdahl deserted his comrades. Let a court martial determine that. Political expediency should not subvert accountability: the military cannot operate without it. Political narratives don’t win wars. Armies with accountable soldiers do. Bowe Bergdahl should be held accountable, Obama’s tender ego be damned.