September 23, 2015

Bergdahl Defense Withers Under Evidence

An Article 32 hearing is underway to determine the deserter’s fate.

The case of Bowe Bergdahl’s disappearance from his Army unit while in Afghanistan and his subsequent capture by the Taliban in 2009 is back in the news. An Army Article 32 hearing is currently taking place at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, to determine whether Bergdahl will face a military trial for desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, charges that could at the very least strip him of rank, sack him with a dishonorable discharge from the Army, and take away any benefits he would otherwise be entitled to. The stiffest penalty could bring him life in prison.

Military prosecutor Maj. Margaret Kurz is vigorously pursuing the harshest course of action available. And she already has a lot of evidence in her corner. For starters, Bergdahl willfully and carelessly put the lives of his fellow soldiers in danger by abandoning his post on June 29, 2009, just five weeks into his deployment.

Testifying at the hearing, Capt. John Billings, Bergdahl’s commanding officer in Afghanistan, said he was “in shock — absolute utter disbelief — that I couldn’t find one of my own men.” He also noted that Bergdahl’s platoon was “emotionally busted” after a grueling, fruitless search for him.

Ultimately, thousands of soldiers were pulled from other duties to search for Bergdahl. Many of the troops were angry at being put in harm’s way for a deserter, according to the testimony of Bergdahl’s company commander Maj. Silvino Silvino.

Bergdahl’s lead attorney, Eugene Fidell, argues Bergdahl planned to leave his post and travel to a nearby base where he could complain about poor command and service conditions at his base. Bergdahl was captured not 12 hours after deserting his post, and he was held by the Taliban for five years — until Barack Obama freed five Taliban terrorists in exchange for Bergdahl in a foolish and arguably illegal swap that was not sanctioned by Congress.

Bergdahl’s capture and Obama’s extremely poor judgment in securing his return have made his actions that much more disturbing. Bergdahl was a very troubled individual prone to depression (he washed out of the Coast Guard for it), delusions of grandeur (he once tried to join the French Foreign Legion), and feelings of persecution (unfounded accusations of poor treatment by fellow soldiers and commanding officers during basic training and in Afghanistan).

On many occasions, Bergdahl openly expressed his dissatisfaction with the Army, America’s involvement in Afghanistan, and America in general. He also planned his desertion weeks in advance, according to emails Kurz shared at the hearing.

The defense strategy is to portray Bergdahl simultaneously as a victim of unforgiving circumstances and his own demons, but the sob story doesn’t hold up against the facts of his premeditation and his open contempt for the work he signed up to do. Further, they want to see that any sentence he receives is considered “time served” in light of his five-year captivity at the hands of the Taliban.

That cannot be allowed to happen. Kurz may have said it best. “One does not just walk away into the Afghan wilderness and then return as though nothing happened.”

It is still unclear just what Bergdahl may have shared with the enemy during his confinement. He claims he made numerous escape attempts, but it’s difficult to know if that was true. He certainly opened himself up to being a propaganda tool of the Taliban and a potential security risk if he gave away any vital military information.

And let’s not forget — let’s never forget — the six American lives lost during the missions to try to find Bergdahl. The Pentagon now claims no one was killed as a direct result of the search for Bergdahl. But that is simply crass political cover for Obama.

Bergdahl’s fate won’t be known for some time. The Article 32 hearing must come back with the recommendation that he face trial — a trial that will be in the public spotlight and drag out this story for an indeterminate amount of time. Hopefully, Bergdahl will be punished for causing the loss of American lives and jeopardizing thousands more whose only mission was to protect a man who actually held in contempt the institution they represented and the country they fought for.

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