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.

Published in Foreign Policy, Military
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  1. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    A-Squared:

    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.

    A,

    This is an abomination for the Obama administration. She is desperately trying to spin it. She’d do anything to deflect the righteous rage justly aimed at President Zero for this entire affair.

    Trust me Bergdahl has nothing to do with it. If not for trying to clean the mud off Obama she wouldn’t care if Bergdahl was publicly hanged.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #31
  2. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    James Gawron:This is an abomination for the Obama administration. She is desperately trying to spin it. She’d do anything to deflect the righteous rage justly aimed at President Zero for this entire affair.

    Maybe.  She was pretty critical of the Obama administration’s actions after Bergdahl was released.

    • #32
  3. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    A-Squared:

    James Gawron:This is an abomination for the Obama administration. She is desperately trying to spin it. She’d do anything to deflect the righteous rage justly aimed at President Zero for this entire affair.

    Maybe. She was pretty critical of the Obama administration’s actions after Bergdahl was released.

    A,

    You mean she thought that Obama should have given the Taliban even more to get Bergdahl back.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #33
  4. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    James Gawron:A,

    You mean she thought that Obama should have given the Taliban even more to get Bergdahl back.

    Regards,

    Jim

    No, different things:

    1. the Rose Garden ceremony was massive and huge blunder that clearly demonstrated how little they understood the country’s concerns about Bergdahl (I think she says no one considered the possibility of any concerns)
    2. Susan Rice made a HUGE blunder by saying on the Sunday talk shows that Bergdahl served with “honor and distinction”, everyone realized immediately that was a massive blunder
    3. The White House didn’t understand that Congress cared about breaking the law by not notifying them about any Gitmo releases in advance (and clearly Obama didn’t care)
    4. How having Bergdahl’s parents in the Rose Garden made the notification issue look very bad (ie, it looked like the WH told Bergdahl’s parents but didn’t tell Congress).  She claims it was a pure coincidence, but I remain skeptical

    Koenig effectively admits that Obama wants to release all the Gitmo detainees and this was just an excuse to release some of them.  There is a long back story to the swap that the podcast covers but isn’t worth going into.   Regardless, the way the WH handled the PR made them look like the amateurs they are.  If anything Koenig blames the WH’s mishandling of the release for all the negative press Bergdahl is getting, so if anything, I think she blames the WH for Berdahl being court-martialed.

    • #34
  5. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    A-Squared:

    James Gawron:A,

    You mean she thought that Obama should have given the Taliban even more to get Bergdahl back.

    Regards,

    Jim

    No, different things:

    1. the Rose Garden ceremony was massive and huge blunder that clearly demonstrated how little they understood the country’s concerns about Bergdahl (I think she says no one considered the possibility of any concerns)
    2. Susan Rice made a HUGE blunder by saying on the Sunday talk shows that Bergdahl served with “honor and distinction”, everyone realized immediately that was a massive blunder
    3. The White House didn’t understand that Congress cared about breaking the law by not notifying them about any Gitmo releases in advance (and clearly Obama didn’t care)
    4. How having Bergdahl’s parents in the Rose Garden made the notification issue look very bad (ie, it looked like the WH told Bergdahl’s parents but didn’t tell Congress). She claims it was a pure coincidence, but I remain skeptical

    Koenig effectively admits that Obama wants to release all the Gitmo detainees and this was just an excuse to release some of them. There is a long back story to the swap that the podcast covers but isn’t worth going into. Regardless, the way the WH handled the PR made them look like the amateurs they are. If anything Koenig blames the WH’s mishandling of the release for all the negative press Bergdahl is getting, so if anything, I think she blames the WH for Berdahl being court-martialed.

    A,

    I think Koenig is professionally naive. The Whitehouse did exactly what the White House wanted to do. Bergdahl was a convenient tool to do it with. None of it was incompetence. All of it was aiding and abetting an enemy. In this, the White House may have seen Bergdahl as a kindred spirit. The creepy Rose Garden affair had that feel. Obama liked the Bergdahls very much and it was because he knew Bowe Bergdahl was a collaborator.

    I’m not qualified to judge Bergdahl. I’ve never been in combat. However, I’m quite sure I’m qualified to judge Obama.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #35
  6. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    All the rhetoric doesn’t really matter to me, nor do the excuses.  If I recall correctly from my education in the UCMJ, in Basic Training, what Bergdahl did is a capital offense. And since he went through BCT, he knew it, too, when he left his post (read “deserted”).  Go ahead and put lipstick on a pig, it’s still, oh, you know.

    • #36
  7. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    James Gawron: I think Koenig is professionally naive.

    I don’t see anyone disputing that

    • #37
  8. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    All of the commenters who seem to think that Serial was a defense of Bergdahl either heard a different podcast from the one I heard, or (more likely) didn’t listen to it at all and have dismissed it based on preconceptions of what it was.

    I’m with Tom. I consider the time I spent on the podcast time well spent, because now I understand the case a great deal better than I did before, and I’m able to reach conclusions based on actual facts. But that’s just how I roll.

    • #38
  9. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Quinn the Eskimo: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.

    If by this you mean that Bergdahl should get 35 years and 1 month, then I only slightly disagree with you.

    I have far more respect for Mr Jenkins because he chose to surrender himself; there was absolutely no danger that he would have been extradited by the Japanese. Mr Jenkins wanted to make himself right with the military and he did. That the military chose to be merciful is another matter.

    Bergdahl wanted to have a PR stunt – (by his admission) – but his story makes no sense because he left his gear behind. What idiot thinks he can highlight misbehavior of his chain of command while leaving his combat gear in his hooch.

    How does one reconcile that he thought the situation was so dangerous (his accusations that his chain of command was getting folks killed) yet decides that the environment outside the wire is so safe that he can just waltz over to the next FOB sans weapons just to make a point.

    Was he trying to say that the chain of command should disarm and thereby make everyone safer?

    His claimed motivation makes no sense based on his actions, regardless of what serial says.

    • #39
  10. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    I find it interesting that he isn’t being charged with desertion, but misconduct.  I’m open to correction on this.

    I think he’s going to accept a plea deal. An almost certain conviction, with the court martial (officers and senior NCOS) not open to extenuating and mitigating circumstances, could put him in Leavenworth for 20 years.

    I foresee a plea to lesser included offenses and a sentence of 10 years with time in captivity offsetting most of the 10 years. Maybe 2 years of actual time, reduction to E1, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and a bad conduct vice a dishonorable discharge.

    The key question is: what can the Army impose and call justice, with a straight face?

    • #40
  11. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Steve C.: I find it interesting that he isn’t being charged with desertion, but misconduct. I’m open to correction on this.

    Misbehavior is defined here.

    Desertion here.

    The desertion charge would be easier to defend, because an element of the crime of desertion includes the intent to permanently absent oneself from his unit.

    The description in the OP from the Defense seem to actually admit elements of the crime of misbehavior.

    • #41
  12. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    I’m surprised that the Army accepted Bergdahl after having been discharged from the Coast Guard. Although after reading the book Making the Corps I think Bergdahl is an example of those that the Marine Corps tries to weed out during basic training.

    During the Clinton administration the Army accepted a proposal that when a recruit in basic training felt stressed they could request the Drill Instructor to back off, a time out so to speak. The Marine Corps was asked to implement the policy and refused. The Corps stated that when in combat the enemy does not give time outs. Marine Corps recruit training is stressful for a number of reasons. It is designed to find those candidates that can perform under stress and weed out those who the Corps calls unsuitable for military life.

    The Rose Garden fiasco is a perfect illustration of a president who does not understand the military, nor does his closest advisors.

    • #42
  13. David Knights Member
    David Knights
    @DavidKnights

    NPR did a very good presentation of the Chewbacca defense.

    Anyone familiar with criminal defense work will recognize what Serial was doing almost from the first episode.

    Boil it all down he is guilty of desertion in the face of the enemy.

    • #43
  14. Stephen Dawson Inactive
    Stephen Dawson
    @StephenDawson

    Klaatu: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.

    (My emphasis.) How many people are in the US Army? How many have been cycled through Afghanistan and Iraq? I am astonished that there have been so very few disasters of the Manning and Bergdahl kind. It seems to me that the Army’s game is superb.

    • #44
  15. Fred Cole Inactive
    Fred Cole
    @FredCole

    Jim, I think you give the Obama administration too much credit. We have seven years of evidence to prove that they are not the master level super genius manipulators that you think they are.

    Im partial to the axiom “Never blame on malice that which you can adequately explain by incompetence.”

    • #45
  16. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Stephen Dawson: How many people are in the US Army?

    A more relevant question might be based on deployment. 2.6 million service men and women were dispatched to the Iraq and Afghan theatres, some serving up to 5 rotations.

    But that number includes Air and Naval personnel that never saw combat and large numbers of support people that stayed “inside the wire.”

    In the past we’ve talked a lot about the erroneous and misleading reporting about veteran suicide statistics*, but one telling stat is this: Over half (52%) of suicides among veterans and active duty service members have never seen combat.

    A UC-San Diego psychiatrist noted that marital and financial problems outweighed PTSD. They brought baggage with them.

    The Corps, as noted above, has done a lot better at weeding out those unfit to serve. That’s changing, unfortunately. There are a lot of greasy pole climbers among the brass eager to get on the Democrat’s standards lowering train.

    * The media latched on to this “22 suicides per day” narrative and never let go, blissfully ignoring the fact that the study they were citing including WWII AND Korea vets in their 80s and 90s struggling with end-of-life illnesses.
    • #46
  17. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    Regardless of the veracity of the NPR production one thing seems abundantly clear: There never has been a better match of Commander-in-Chief with an individual trooper as between Obama and Bergdahl. Sadly that is on the collective “us”. “We” gave Obama power and command. “We” had better do right by the loyal troops who suffered under Obama’s command.

    • #47
  18. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Fred Cole:Jim, I think you give the Obama administration too much credit. We have seven years of evidence to prove that they are not the master level super genius manipulators that you think they are.

    Im partial to the axiom “Never blame on malice that which you can adequately explain by incompetence.”

    Fred,

    After seven years of observation, the incompetence has a repetitive quality that suggests intent. Your axiom is well acknowledged but in this case, I think you are too kind. Much too kind.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #48
  19. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    James Gawron: After seven years of observation, the incompetence has a repetitive quality that suggests intent.

    Fred is too polite to launch a charge of treason.

    • #49
  20. Fred Cole Inactive
    Fred Cole
    @FredCole

    Treason doesn’t apply here.  It’s just garden variety idiocy.

    • #50
  21. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Fred Cole: Treason doesn’t apply here. It’s just garden variety idiocy.

    But that is the only two options.

    • #51
  22. Yeah...ok. Inactive
    Yeah...ok.
    @Yeahok

    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.

    There do not seem to be a shortage of anecdotes illustrating Trump’s character. Why did Tom add Trump’s opinion in this post? Are the contributors required to post an anti-Trump essay each week? Since Tom invested all that time in the Serial production did he only had time to shoehorn in the Trump item?

    Another member asked Tom why he invested his talent in publishing this piece about the stupid deserter. An unusual event, to be sure; the potus rarely publicize failed PR events. Certainly we can speculate why the stupid deserter did what he did and why the stupid president did what he did.

    When EJ asked Tom why he posted, this was my snarky theory from the peanut gallery.

    • #52
  23. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    Yeah…ok.: There do not seem to be a shortage of anecdotes illustrating Trump’s character. Why did Tom add Trump’s opinion in this post?

    Because Trump keeps saying that we should shoot Bergdahl.  The relevant question, why does Trump keep saying that when he hasn’t bothered to learn the relevant facts?

    • #53
  24. Klaatu Inactive
    Klaatu
    @Klaatu

    A-Squared:

    Yeah…ok.: There do not seem to be a shortage of anecdotes illustrating Trump’s character. Why did Tom add Trump’s opinion in this post?

    Because Trump keeps saying that we should shoot Bergdahl. The relevant question, why does Trump keep saying that when he hasn’t bothered to learn the relevant facts?

    If Trump held back from saying anything until he learned relevant facts …

    • #54
  25. Yeah...ok. Inactive
    Yeah...ok.
    @Yeahok

    A-Squared:

    Yeah…ok.: There do not seem to be a shortage of anecdotes illustrating Trump’s character. Why did Tom add Trump’s opinion in this post?

    Because Trump keeps saying that we should shoot Bergdahl. The relevant question, why does Trump keep saying that when he hasn’t bothered to learn the relevant facts?

    Ignorance doesn’t seem to muzzle me. I will not dispute one has relevant questions regarding Trump. I just failed to see how Trump’s words applied to this Bergdahl issue. I did NOT listen to 11 minutes of Serial so if Trump had something to do with this then I am in error.

    • #55
  26. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    Yeah…ok.: I did NOT listen to 11 minutes of Serial.

    Congratulations.

    • #56
  27. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    I listened to the final episode during my mid-day workout.

    I was underwhelmed.  She said was going to discuss what Bergdahl should be blamed and what he should not be blamed for, but she spent the entire episode on the question of whether anyone died directly as a result of his desertion.  She then tried to pawn off any blame by bringing up some other examples of people who deserted and got caught by the Afghan police and were returned before anyone knew they were missing.  So what?  Bergdahl wasn’t captured by the Afghan police, he was captured by the Taliban and we spent millions of dollars and man-hours looking for him.  Bergdahl should undeniably be blamed for that, but she wouldn’t say that.

    Koenig has been clearly biased throughout this entire season.  I don’t see myself coming back for season 3.

    • #57
  28. Fred Cole Inactive
    Fred Cole
    @FredCole

    Wait. What was her bias?

    • #58
  29. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    Fred Cole:Wait. What was her bias?

    This is the bias I see.

    A-Squared:

    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.

    • #59
  30. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    One other thought on the last episode.  Sarah said no one was killed in searching for Bergdahl in part because they knew pretty quickly he was in Pakistan and the regular Army would not go into Pakistan, only the Special Forces would.  So, she just stopped there.

    She reached a conclusion beyond the evidence.  She simply doesn’t know if anyone was killed in a classified mission by Special Ops people trying to find Bergdahl and she has no way of finding out.

    She should have said we  have no evidence but we can never know for sure.

    • #60
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