Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Evaluating Bowe Bergdahl

 

USA_PFC_BoweBergdahl_ACU_CroppedThe second season of Serial — the NPR podcast that investigated the murder of Hae Min Lee last year and turned its attention to the circumstances following Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s abandonment of his post in rural Afghanistan — ended last week.

And while this season may have lacked the suspense and mystery of the first, it made up for it through some impressive reporting regarding a matter of genuine public interest. We’ll undoubtedly learn more through Bergdahl’s court-martial this summer, but Serial’s investigation makes a strong case for the following:

  • Bergdahl was poorly suited to service in the US Army, a fact that should have been apparent to none more than Bergdahl himself. Besides being distrustful of authority, aloof, and prideful, Bergdahl had been kicked out of Coast Guard training years earlier, apparently after intentionally injuring himself during a panic attack. This doesn’t make him a bad guy — and his desire to try again is actually rather commendable in a naive sort of way — but it likely made him an unsuitable soldier. Some of his close friends saw that and tried to warn him off.
  • Even under the most generous interpretation of events — i.e., that he intended to showcase his commanders’ disregard for their soldiers’ safety by exposing security weaknesses — Bergdhal’s decision to leave his post was extraordinarily reckless and stupid.
  • There is, however, very little evidence to suggest that Bergdahl intended to harm his comrades, let alone that he is the “dirty rotten traitor” Donald Trump describes at nearly every rally. The SERE team that debriefed Bergdahl after his release has spoken highly of his conduct while caged by the Taliban and maintains that he’s been extremely helpful since.
  • While there’s little evidence to support the oft-stated claim that anyone was killed as a direct consequence of Bergdahl’s disappearance, several soldiers were seriously injured while searching for him. Moreover, Bergdahl is almost certainly indirectly responsible for a number of casualties — including fatalities — due to how resources and units were re-deployed in the effort to find him.
  • The Obama Administration utterly botched how to play the prisoner exchange, failed to vet whether Bergdahl’s parents were ready for prime time (they were a disaster), and ignored the mountains of evidence that Bergdahl was held in contempt by many of his former comrades. Susan Rice deserves particular scorn for doubling-down on these problems on subsequent Sunday talk shows.(Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so, too.)

Bergdahl was severely punished for his decision to walk off that night in 2009; five years in a Taliban cage isn’t anything I’d wish on anyone. The question of whether — and to what degree — he should be held accountable for his actions is quite another matter. Serial has done a commendable job in bringing light to the case for the public; let’s hope the court-martial does an equally good investigation and applies the law with the justice that both Bergdahl and his comrades deserve.

There are 64 comments.

  1. Neil Hansen (Klaatu) Inactive

    Nice post, Tom.

    My own experience, dated as it may be, is the Army generally does a good job weeding out those unsuitable for service during initial entry training but those who slip through can create real problems for their units or the country in the case of Bradley Manning and Bergdahl. Wartime necessarily creates an incentive to get new soldiers through training and out to the field but it obviously increases the damage those poorly suited to the life can wreak. The Army needs to up its game.

    • #1
    • April 5, 2016, at 10:33 AM PST
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  2. Richard Finlay Member

    I can’t see a “just” result for desertion in the face of the enemy that doesn’t involve at least reduction in grade to e-1 and prison time. I am expecting, however, something like a general discharge.

    • #2
    • April 5, 2016, at 10:35 AM PST
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  3. BrentB67 Inactive

    I volunteer to build the gallows.

    • #3
    • April 5, 2016, at 10:45 AM PST
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  4. KC Mulville Inactive

    This doesn’t make him a bad guy — and his desire to try again is actually rather commendable in a naive sort of way — but it likely made him an unsuitable soldier.

    This is an important point. Whatever one thinks of Bergdahl as a person, it’s pretty clear that he didn’t grasp the essential skill of a soldier: the ability to act under authority.

    Years ago, I recall a Jesuit recruiter say that there were fewer and fewer people who could make it in religious life, not because of any lack of faith, but because society as a whole is increasingly unable to instill the virtue of obedience. Popular culture glorifies individualism. Calls to question authority are a necessary social defense mechanism, but if that translates into never accepting authority at all, then it defeats the purpose.

    • #4
    • April 5, 2016, at 10:51 AM PST
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  5. Profile Photo Member

    If everything is as stated above, he probably gets something comparable to Charles Jenkins, who defected to North Korea, immediately regretted it and got stuck there for 40 years. “Poorly thought out” does not begin to describe a decision like that.

    Jenkins got 30 days confinement, reduction to E-1 and forfeiture of pay and benefits with a dishonorable discharge.

    That’s assuming that his behavior was simply epic idiocy. If he deliberately went to help the Taliban, I take it back. I’m just going on the description in the OP.

    • #5
    • April 5, 2016, at 10:57 AM PST
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  6. A-Squared Coolidge

    The only episode I liked this season was the episode where they discussed how incredibly stupid the Obama administration was in handling Bergdahl’s release.

    They clearly do not understand the military. They clearly do not understand what it means to serve with honor and distinction.

    I think Bergdahl needs to spend several years in a military prison.

    • #6
    • April 5, 2016, at 10:58 AM PST
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  7. James Gawron Thatcher

    Tom,

    I think somebody needs to comment here. I am the last guy on Ricochet who has any military experience. Almost everyone is better suited than I to comment. However, the facts of this situation are so glaring one is forced to comment.

    Bergdahl was not an eighteen-year-old draftee thrown into a war zone who panicked. He was in his 20s and enlisted! The war had been going on for some time and had been roundly criticized with up close & personal coverage in multiple media sources all available to the young computer savvy middle-class Bergdahl.

    He was in a combat zone! He was on guard duty! He left his comrades to be infiltrated and murdered in their sleep. He was under no duress by superiors! No Paris Island drill sergeant stock villain of the liberal imagination was riding him.

    You are right that we don’t have direct evidence that people died because of him it is only extremely likely that people died because of him. We also don’t have direct evidence that he collaborated with the enemy. He was lunatic enough to actually go looking to link up with the Taliban when he deserted. So by the same token, we don’t have evidence that he didn’t collaborate with the Taliban. Colonel Allen West expressed the opinion that it is extremely unlikely that he didn’t collaborate with the Taliban because otherwise he would have been killed by them quickly.

    As I said before, I’m not military and have no credentials for commenting.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #7
    • April 5, 2016, at 10:58 AM PST
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  8. Online Park Member

    You are right that we don’t have direct evidence that people died because of him it is only extremely likely that people died because of him. We also don’t have direct evidence that he collaborated with the enemy. He was lunatic enough to actually go looking to link up with the Taliban when he deserted. So by the same token, we don’t have evidence that he didn’t collaborate with the Taliban. Colonel Allen West expressed the opinion that it is extremely unlikely that he didn’t collaborate with the Taliban because otherwise he would have been killed by them quickly.

    I would be interested in your opinion Jim, if you had listened to Serial. I listened to all 10 hours of it (or whatever it was) week by week and found it fascinating. I think he has suffered the consequences of his actions and should be left in peace.

    • #8
    • April 5, 2016, at 11:10 AM PST
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  9. BrentB67 Inactive

    Jim, for someone with no military experience I think you have it figured out well.

    • #9
    • April 5, 2016, at 11:11 AM PST
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  10. Wolverine Coolidge

    I thought his father was strange and thought it weird when he communicated to him in what I think was Pashtun. The whole event with Obama at the White House just seemed bizarre beyond description.

    • #10
    • April 5, 2016, at 11:15 AM PST
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  11. Susan Quinn Contributor

    I’m struck by the incredible degree of self-serving behavior and how naïve he was. Injured himself to get out of the Coast Guard? Deserted and went to the Taliban? What was he thinking? In addition to deserting his comrades. I think he has to serve some time. He foolishly chose to go to the Taliban. Now there are simply consequences.

    • #11
    • April 5, 2016, at 11:36 AM PST
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  12. A-Squared Coolidge

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Bergdahl was severely punished for his decision to walk off that night in 2009; five years in a Taliban cage isn’t anything I’d wish on anyone. The question of whether — and to what degree — he should be held accountable for his actions is quite another matter.

    I know I’m dense, but I don’t understand what this means.

    Do you think he should be held accountable or not? What would being held accountable look like to you? Why does what happened after voluntarily walking off the post impact whether he should be held accountable?

    Full disclosure, I have not listened to this weeks episode yet, but I will.

    • #12
    • April 5, 2016, at 11:49 AM PST
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  13. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge

    I’ll admit that this is, comparatively speaking, a minor point, but it bothers me that Serial never even raised the question of how much the search for Bergdahl cost. I mean literally, financially. Even if no one died, how much money was spent mobilizing the massive search for him? Seems to me that the question of “accountability” should, at the very minimum, begin there.

    Mind you, I don’t think he deserves a firing squad. People who keep saying that he “went to the Taliban” are repeated an accusation for which there is no evidence. I’m convinced that Bergdahl is guilty of extremely poor judgment, epic stupidity, and near-terminal arrogance, but not treason.

    • #13
    • April 5, 2016, at 11:50 AM PST
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  14. Richard Finlay Member

    Online Park: I think he has suffered the consequences of his actions and should be left in peace.

    Assuming that he has, indeed, suffered and that direct/indirect consequences of his actions cannot be identified as serious … I don’t care. His actions alone condemn him. An effective military cannot tolerate desertion in the face of the enemy. This really isn’t just about him.

    • #14
    • April 5, 2016, at 11:51 AM PST
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  15. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Susan Quinn: Deserted and went to the Taliban? What was he thinking? In addition to deserting his comrades. I think he has to serve some time. He foolishly chose to go to the Taliban.

    That’s probably not what happened and there’s precious little evidence to support that it did. The Taliban have always claimed that they captured him and Bergdahl’s story — which is stupid but may well be true — is that he was trying to go from one US military position to another to expose his officers’ incompetence and negligence.

    Again, seriously stupid if true.

    • #15
    • April 5, 2016, at 11:54 AM PST
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  16. EJHill Podcaster

    Desertion in an active combat zone is not the equivalent of draft dodging or even domestic AWOL cases.

    Has anyone here heard the name Edward Donald Slovik?

    While I’m sure his NPR defense attorneys laid out an admirable case, Bergdahl’s injuries over the course of his confinement is limited to having been kept in a crouching position for extended periods. Yes, those paragons of The Geneva Conventions, the Taliban, limited the physical abuse because all he gave them was his name, rank and serial number.

    His advocates say he has disc damage and PTSD. Tell that to the Marines and Army guys walking around on prosthetics, that is, to those that can walk at all. Explain the pain of his captivity to the wife whose marital duty is now one of caretaker. Explain the extent of Bergdahl’s pain to her, who sent off a strapping young husband to war and received a shell of a man in return thanks to an IED.

    No, he has not “suffered enough.” But I’m all for putting him out of his misery.

    • #16
    • April 5, 2016, at 11:59 AM PST
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  17. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: Again, seriously stupid if true.

    And I knew that. Thanks for reminding me. I guess some stupid things are hard for me to follow –makes me stupid!

    • #17
    • April 5, 2016, at 12:23 PM PST
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  18. James Gawron Thatcher

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Susan Quinn: Deserted and went to the Taliban? What was he thinking? In addition to deserting his comrades. I think he has to serve some time. He foolishly chose to go to the Taliban.

    That’s probably not what happened and there’s precious little evidence to support that it did. The Taliban have always claimed that they captured him and Bergdahl’s story — which is stupid but may well be true — is that he was trying to go from one US military position to another to expose his officers’ incompetence and negligence.

    Again, seriously stupid if true.

    Tom,

    This isn’t the story I’m aware of. He went to a nearby village and literally asked to be led to the Taliban. I think manufacturing the “he was stupid and has suffered enough” defense is a bit much here. I think we don’t want to grasp how much the administration is in the tank for Jihadism. They can’t see the handwriting on the wall with Iran but everyone else in the world does. They call ISIS a JV team. They wreck Syria and Libya but it still is all George Bush’s fault.

    Tom don’t help them by putting a fig leaf over Bergdahl. They traded a deserter (and possible collaborator) for 5 dangerous Taliban. I’m not sure with BHO and Susan Rice if they knew Bergdahl was a collaborator it would have made any difference to them.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #18
    • April 5, 2016, at 12:24 PM PST
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  19. Franco Member

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: Bergdahl was severely punished for his decision to walk off that night in 2009; five years in a Taliban cage isn’t anything I’d wish on anyone.

    Well, aren’t you compassionate! There remains the matter of who should be doing the punishing. And the matter of how this looks to the rest of the world, and also our current and former military service-members who didn’t desert their posts in a war zone.

    • #19
    • April 5, 2016, at 1:12 PM PST
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  20. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Franco:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: Bergdahl was severely punished for his decision to walk off that night in 2009; five years in a Taliban cage isn’t anything I’d wish on anyone.

    Well, aren’t you compassionate! There remains the matter of who should be doing the punishing. And the matter of how this looks to the rest of the world, and also our current and former military service-members who didn’t desert their posts in a war zone.

    Which is why I think it’s right that he be court-martialed.

    Based on Serial, he seems guilty of some quite serious charges and has not been held to account for them. He should be and, hopefully, the court-martial will do justice by and to Bergdahl.

    • #20
    • April 5, 2016, at 1:23 PM PST
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  21. EJHill Podcaster

    After you all spent hours on the life of Bowe Bergdahl, go read this and then comeback and justify it all. Justify his notoriety, the money NPR spent on their “investigation,” the notion that he “suffered.”

    Oh, and when Barack or Hillary get around to pardoning him….

    • #21
    • April 5, 2016, at 1:24 PM PST
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  22. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    EJHill:After you all spent hours on the life of Bowe Bergdahl, go read this and then comeback and justify it all.

    I’ve no interest in justifying Bergdahl’s actions and don’t believe I’ve been doing so.

    Again, I think there’s ample reason to court-martial him and — based on Serial’s reporting — it seems likely that he’s guilty of from very serious crimes (though not as serious as some of those that have been leveled against him).

    • #22
    • April 5, 2016, at 1:33 PM PST
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  23. EJHill Podcaster

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: I’ve no interest in justifying Bergdahl’s actions and don’t believe I’ve been doing so.

    I’m not asking you to justify him. I’m asking you to justify yourself. Why spend two minutes on this POS? Every ounce wasted on him is an ounce of effort diverted from real heroes like SSgt Bee and the real scandal at the VA.

    Serial spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of man hours on this while the VA lets our vets die without help, many of them at their own hand. Oh, and all while the bureaucrats skate. And you present that all without the slightest disgust or outrage.

    • #23
    • April 5, 2016, at 1:55 PM PST
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  24. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    EJHill:I’m not asking you to justify him. I’m asking you to justify yourself. Why spend two minutes on this [redacted]? Every ounce wasted on him is an ounce of effort diverted from real heroes like SSgt Bee and the real scandal at the VA.

    Because it was already a very newsworthy story on multiple levels that I wanted to understand better.

    • #24
    • April 5, 2016, at 2:05 PM PST
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  25. A-Squared Coolidge

    James Gawron: This isn’t the story I’m aware of. He went to a nearby village and literally asked to be led to the Taliban.

    In Tom’s defense, Bergdahl claims this is not what happened, rather he argues that he was trying to complain about his commanding officer. But as I said in the last thread Tom created to discuss Bergdahl, my guess is, he convinced himself over 5 years of captivity that he just wanted to help and this was all a big misunderstanding. I’m just not convinced Bergdahl is a reliable witness to his feelings prior to voluntarily walking off the post (which no one, not even Bergdahl, disputes that he did).

    • #25
    • April 5, 2016, at 2:12 PM PST
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  26. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    A-Squared: But as I said in the last thread Tom created to discuss Bergdahl, my guess is, he convinced himself over 5 years of captivity that he just wanted to help and this was all a big misunderstanding. I’m just not convinced Bergdahl is a reliable witness to his feelings prior to voluntarily walking off the post (which no one, not even Bergdahl, disputes that he did).

    For the record, I think that’s an entirely plausible theory.

    • #26
    • April 5, 2016, at 2:18 PM PST
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  27. Yeah...ok. Inactive

    EJHill:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: I’ve no interest in justifying Bergdahl’s actions and don’t believe I’ve been doing so.

    I’m not asking you to justify him. I’m asking you to justify yourself. Why spend two minutes on this POS? Every ounce wasted on him is an ounce of effort diverted from real heroes like SSgt Bee and the real scandal at the VA.

    It provided the opportunity to bash Trump.

    let alone that he is the “dirty rotten traitor” Donald Trump describes at nearly every rally

    • #27
    • April 5, 2016, at 2:21 PM PST
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  28. A-Squared Coolidge

    Yeah…ok.: It provided the opportunity to bash Trump.

    Trump provides plenty of those opportunities. I’m sure Tom didn’t need to listen to 11 hours Susan Koenig to find an excuse to bash Trump.

    • #28
    • April 5, 2016, at 2:23 PM PST
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  29. James Gawron Thatcher

    A-Squared:

    Yeah…ok.: It provided the opportunity to bash Trump.

    Trump provides plenty of those opportunities. I’m sure Tom didn’t need to listen to 11 hours Susan Koenig to find an excuse to bash Trump.

    A,

    Might I ask why Susan Koenig needed to spend 11 hours on Bergdahl other than to justify an unjustifiable decision by Obama?

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #29
    • April 5, 2016, at 2:28 PM PST
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  30. A-Squared Coolidge

    James Gawron: Might I ask why Susan Koenig needed to spend 11 hours on Bergdahl other than to justify an unjustifiable decision by Obama?

    As I said in the other thread, I can see why a hard-core lefty like Sarah Koenig would take up the case of Bergdahl. In her mind, he just went awol to help save lives and now he’s being unfairly court-martialed. It’s another travesty of justice that she can help avert by letting this guy tell his side of the story.

    • #30
    • April 5, 2016, at 2:35 PM PST
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