Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on 26 April 2015, and was updated to reflect recent developments in the story.
The Marine Corps has already tried, convicted, and sentenced its deserter to prison; it’s time for the Army to do the same with theirs.
US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is a deserter. There is no spin, no “alternative narrative,” and no storyline about him “serving with honor and distinction” that is going to change that. The Army is investigating him for his crimes, and it is my sincere hope that he is not only found guilty, but that he also be sentenced to spend time in a military prison.
I spent a considerable portion of my last tour in Afghanistan supporting the effort to find and recover Bergdahl, and as evidenced by the September 2014 article I wrote about him, I was a strong supporter of the effort to bring him home. But I also said that he should spend some time in an American prison; not necessarily for what he allegedly did while help captive, but for how he fell into the hands of the enemy in the first place.
I want to make something abundantly clear: I’m not suggesting that he be imprisoned for what he allegedly did while he was a captive. If held by a ruthless state-sponsored, Pakistan-controlled terrorist organization like the Haqqani Network, most of us would end up doing whatever it is they wanted… or we’d end up dead. I’ve been through enough SERE training programs and personally observed enough interrogations downrange to know this. So I’m not going to judge Bergdahl on what he did or didn’t do in captivity. But I am going to judge the hell out of him for what did prior to getting caught.
As I stated in an earlier article, this is what I think should happen to Bergdahl: he should pay for what he did with a stint in Leavenworth. He should also forfeit all of the pay and allowances he received while he was in captivity, and he should be reduced back to the rank of PFC. He should also be placed under an injunction to make sure that he cannot profit from any books or movies made about his time in captivity.
Bergdahl’s capture did NOT occur in the line of duty, and he should not reap the benefits of it. He was promoted in captivity, without having to go through the promotion board required of all of the rest of his peers. Had a desertion in time of war been on his record, he would never have been allowed to proceed into the noncommissioned officer ranks. He shouldn’t be among them now.
I know some people will say, “Well, he was held captive by the Taliban for five years, isn’t that enough?” No, it’s NOT “enough.” Bergdahl’s crime of desertion was not committed against the Taliban, it was committed against the U.S. Army and the American people. We don’t outsource the discipline of our soldiers to terrorists; it is neither their responsibility nor their privilege to punish crimes committed under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. I have no doubt Bergdahl did suffer while in captivity — good, being stupid SHOULD be painful. But that doesn’t mitigate the act of desertion he committed before he was captured.
Moreover, Bergdahl shows not only a complete lack of remorse for his actions, but also utter contempt for his former comrades by allowing his lawyer to promulgate the ridiculous, reprehensible, and utterly laughable assertion that Bergdahl left his base without permission to report unspecified “crimes” and other wrongdoing being committed by his own unit. He doubled down on this fantasy by going public on the television show “Serial,” further besmirching the very institution that spent enormous effort, and some say lives, saving him from his own shenanigans.
No rational person sitting in the jury for a court martial will believe the lie that Bergdahl deserted his base and attempted to walk hundreds of miles through enemy-controlled territory to “report crimes to the nearest general officer,” especially when there is no evidence (or even specific accusations from Bergdahl) that any crime — other than Bergdahl’s — ever occurred. This utterly unbelievable falsehood serves only to help muddy the water and divert attention from Bergdahl’s wrongdoing by further embarrassing the Army.
We gave up five major Taliban prisoners (at least one of which is now apparently back in the game) as well as considerable time, effort, money, and national prestige to get Bergdahl back, and he repays it with yet more treachery. I think that this, more than anything, shows his true colors.
It is Bergdahl’s right under both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and our nation’s laws to have his day in court, and the recent decision by the convening authority in his court martial case has ensured that will happen. Not all of the facts of this case have been made public, and perhaps he will even be acquitted. But I do not think he will be. And if he is convicted, then I hope the Army has the integrity that Bergdahl lacks, and does the right thing by stripping him of his rank and the privilege of wearing an Army uniform, and sends him straight to prison for a long, long time.