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The Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl Saga: The Politics of Saving A Soldier's Life (Updated 9/23/15)

Updated on August 27, 2017
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My Esoteric spent 20+ years as a DoD Cost and Economic Analyst as well as a program manager of the Air Force Total Cost of Ownership MIS.



Conservatives Turn the Rescue of an American Soldier into a Political Circus

WHY AM I NOT SURPRISED AND THIS TIME DISGUSTED! These people are certainly not the Republicans or Conservatives of years past; these are a new breed of no-holds bared politicians who go for the jugular at ever possible opportunity no matter who they hurt or how much they shame America. President Obama and Secretary of Defense took advantage of an extremely short window of opportunity to free the only American soldier still held in captivity by an enemy force ... and this ends up being a bad thing in Conservative eyes! In effect, Obama's political opposition would rather have left Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl with the Taliban; probably even after the rest of our soldiers have left Afghanistan. True Americans, these Conservatives who are attacking Obama for saving an American soldier.


Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl,

A MEMBER OF 1ST BATTALION, 501ST INFANTRY REGIMENT, 4TH BRIGADE COMBAT TEAM, 25TH DIVISION. Five years ago, Sgt. Bergdahl walked away from his unit in Afghanistan and ended up a captive of the Taliban. On May 31, 2014, Sgt, Bowe Bergdahl was exchanged for five senior Taliban leaders held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. These terrorist were sent to Qatar, who acted as the intermediary, where they are supposed to remain for a year (this turned out to have actually happened).

There are plenty of stories floating around now about Bergdahl's disappearance. What is known is that sometime after midnight on June 30, 2009, he packed into a soft backpack some water, knives, writing material, and a notebook. Having determined earlier that taking his weapon and night vision goggles (sensitive items) would be a "big deal" to his superiors, he left them. He also left his body armor. Several contemporaries are saying he left his guard post, but that is contradicted by other accounts, including the fact that he took the time to go back to his hooch (that is what we called them in Vietnam) to leave a note explaining his actions and gather his supplies; I don't believe he deserted his post, an extremely serious offense, but possibly deserted his unit, lesser, but still very serious military crime.

What were Sgt Bergdahl's motives to leave in the middle of a war? Apparently, he became very, very dissatisfied and upset with the way America was prosecuting the war. Some say Bergdahl hated the way Americans were treating the Afghan people they were supposed to be helping; something I can relate to having watched similar crap delivered to the Vietnamese by my comrades-in-arms in Vietnam (part of the reason we lost; we never seem to learn, do we?). In any case, he said he wanted to leave to "start a new life"; if so, he did it in a very strange way and definitely not a smart move.

There is nothing so far to suggest Sgt Bowe Bergdorf was defecting, as some are suggesting to support there misplaced ire. Most articles I have read to-date suggest he had no intention of joining the Taliban, in fact, just the opposite. Some say he wanted to see Afghanistan on his own or the "other side of the mountain" or India; none sound convincing, but neither does voluntarily entering into five years of harsh captivity either; I say harsh based on the little information which has come out about Bergdahl's current health which indicate he was in poorer health than a prisoner coming out of an American prison after five years. Nevertheless, the fact is, he left his unit which is at least Absent With Out Leave (AWOL), but in the larger scheme of things ... so what?!


Should President Obama Made the Prisoner Swap for Sgt Bowe Bergdahl?

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Obama-Hagel Secure Bergdahl's Release

NOBODY KNOWS FOR SURE THE MACHINATIONS which took place to secure the release of the only American prisoner-of-war six month before the pullout of most of the American forces from Afghanistan; a point that seems to have been missed by those who are blasting Obama because he wouldn't leave a soldier behind. To me, it really doesn't matter, we got him out and with few exceptions, the ends, in this case, justify the means as far as I am concerned.

To others on the Right, there are many more exceptions, like who was traded; forget any subterfuge that may be taking place behind the scenes that might mitigate or eliminate the danger from that score (of course, they will then yell at Obama for lying to the Taliban) like having Qatar turn them over to the International Court who want them for war crimes. Another exception is that Obama didn't tell Congress, and therefore the press, in the 30-day time frame some law may require, a law which may be violation of the Constitution's requirement for separation of Powers; yes that is definitely more important than the freedom of an American soldier. Then there is the danger this will set a "precedent" and encourage the Taliban and al Qaida to try even harder to capture Americans; do you Really think they need any more incentive than they already have? Besides, wasn't precedent set back in the American Revolutionary War with the first prisoner exchange?

Then we have the Bergdahl is a traitor, or deserter, or not a hero (I buy that one) arguments. The implication is that 1) those on the Right have already tried, convicted, and sentenced him to life with the Taliban and 2) because he Might be guilty of such things, then it is OK to leave this American soldier behind in enemy hands ... who needs enemies when you have friends like these. I mentioned I buy the "Bergdahl is not a hero" label because he lost the right to that title when he walked off the base. That doesn't mean he didn't serve honorably and with valor until that point, as Susan Rice claimed, there is nothing so far to indicate he didn't. But by leaving his unit and putting their lives in jeopardy when they searched for him clearly requires investigation and appropriate action now that he has returned. It does NOT, however, justify leaving him there as those screeching for Obama's skin want.

If the howling mob of naysayers had been listened to, not saving Bergdahl would have set a precedent, if you really want one: The Right is now trying to say - "Soldiers, please know America will leave you behind in enemy hands if Congress isn't given 30-days notice of a prisoner swap or you are suspected of a crime!" Ironically, the Army has not determined Bergdahl actually deserted (yes, he did leave his base yet they still promoted him while in captivity) and reports are now surfacing, based on Taliban sources, that Sgt. Bergdahl 1) twice tried to escape from captivity, 2) managed to hide for three days in a ditch he dug with hands, 3) he resisted recapture by "fighting like a boxer" .

Sgt. Bergdahl's Patriotism

THERE HAVE BEEN MANY CONSERVATIVES who have turned into vampires, so strong was their lust after his blood for having left the base at which he was stationed, when it comes to Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's patriotism. They would have cut the balls off of Susan Rice had she had them instead of gonads for her characterization of him as having served with "honor and distinction"; which may or may not be true, depending on what comes out of the investigation of why Bergdorf left his unit that night. But what may also not be true, for the same reasons, are the vampire's characterizations of him as a traitor, defector, or deserter. The only thing that seems clear is he was, as I mention earlier, AWOL; which may or may not cause the soporific of "honor" to be lost (distinction has to do with certain acts, so presumably a soldier could serve with dishonor but still serve with distinction, e.g., he heroically saved another soldier's life before defecting); it depends on how bad the AWOL was. (I use to try AWOL cases for the Army (another one of my other lives), and I can tell you, not all AWOL cases are the same.)

What is known now is the following, Bergdahl:

  • Volunteered for the Army and was proud of it
  • Did not oppose going to Afghanistan
  • Did become disillusioned while there by such incidents as when an Afghan child was run over and killed by an American vehicle, and there were no repercussions or solace for the girl's family. (I was aware of similar things in my service in Vietnam)
  • Did not want to be there anymore and ended up opposing our involvement given we didn't know how to conduct ourselves there.
  • Did leave his unit at least one time before to sightsee (he also did the same thing at Ft. Irwin, CA during basic training)
  • Did indicate to "see the other side of the mountain" or India, but never the Taliban
  • Did try to escape once captured
  • Did escape once after capture, but was caught after three days and was put in a box for punishment
  • Apparently did not provide any information to his captors
  • Always signed any communication he was allowed to send. "Pfc Bergdahl"?
  • Is not in as good a shape as the vampires want everybody to believe, given the problems with his recuperation
  • Always wears his uniform while recuperating in Germany, rather than the civilian clothes he was given

To me, that doesn't add up to somebody who is a traitor or a defector; instead, it adds up to a disillusioned 22-year who made a really stupid decision which the Obama-haters want to use against him (and Obama) regardless of the collateral damage to the Bergdahls or, for that matter, the Nation.


AS EXPECTED, THE CONSERVATIVE HATERS WILL HAVE A LOT of egg on their collective faces. The "sky-is-falling-crowd", as usual, didn't wait until all the facts came in before they began destroying a life; and, again, the soul of the Nation. Over the last few weeks, the culmination of a fourteen month investigation played itself out with the Article 32 proceeding (the military's version of a grand jury). Lt. Col., Mark A. Visger, who is heading up Article 32 hearing, will ultimately (in the next week or so) make a recommendation to the Commander of the U.S. Armed Forces Command at Ft. Bragg, NC as to whether to court martial Bergdahl or not. And if a trial is recommended, what level of trial it should be; from the least severe Summary Court-Martial to the most serious General Court-Martial. (I prosecuted Special Courts-Martial and defended in Summary Courts-Martial for a little over a year, and no, I wasn't a lawyer, just a 1st Lieutenant.) The commander will then make a decision on what course to take.

Let me start out by mentioning that Major General Kenneth Dahl (ironic, isn't it), who conducted the initial investigation into Bergdahl and his actions that night on Jun 30, 2009 when he left his place of duty at forward-base Mest-Malak in Afghanistan; unlike some stories, he did not abandon a guard post he was actively manning, instead he didn't show up for the next scheduled guard tour; legally, that makes a BIG difference. After listening to Bergdahl's story ... freely given by the way ..., he has come to believe Bowe Bergdahl should not spend any more time in jail.

So, what is the real story here, the one 20% of Americans will refuse to believe, no matter how much evidence there is to prove it. For starters:

  • As I said, Bowe Bergdahl did not abandon his guard post
  • He was washed out of Coast Guard basic training because he had psychological issues that made him unsuitable for military service. More specifically - diagnosed with depression and sent home after he was found in distress in a Coast Guard barracks, sitting on a floor with blood in his hands, possibly from a bloody nose; he was hospitalized then released.
  • The Army waived that finding and inducted him when he volunteered.
  • Bergdahl was physically fit and well regarded for his work ethic in Army
  • General Dahl found that Bergdahl:
  • 1. He became disenchanted with his fellow soldiers and the Army’s training program.
  • 2. One insight into his mental process is he couldn’t believe higher-ranking soldiers wanted him to lock his wall locker to prevent theft
  • 3. Another is when the command sergeant major said in jest that, like other soldiers, he liked to pillage and plunder, but Bergdahl took it literally,
  • 4. Or, one time when an officer was chewing out some soldiers, the officer kicked some kicking rocks in the process in order to get his point across. Bergdahl was convinced that Baker had disturbed an Afghan grave, a suggestion that perplexed the others present
  • 5. He had no faith in the chain of command to consider his concerns because "they were in the Army for the money and other reasons"
  • 6. In order to reduce the security impact of his leaving, he picked a night when he knew another platoon was coming to relieve the one he was in and there would be plenty of manpower to make up for his absence
  • 7. His plan was to be gone a day or so and reappear 19 miles away at a much larger base in order to draw attention to himself and get his concerns to the commanding officer there.
  • 8. He took only a disguise to avoid the Taliban and other curious types, a knife, and some provisions. In less than 10 hours later, he was captured
  • By all accounts his 4 years and 11 months in captivity was as bad or worse than any experienced by any other American soldier.
  • The terrorists traded for Bergdahl are still under house arrest in Qatar, after an extension of the original agreement for his release.

To me, at least, these facts (according to Gen Dahl) put a whole new light on this sad story. Did Bowe Bergdahl "abandon" his unit, of course. But is he guilty of desertion, a crime that could get him death - most probably not. Why? Because the Army can only prove one of the two elements of proof required for the crime of desertion, and that is he left his post with out permission, the one element needed for Absent Without Leave (AWOL), a much less serious infraction. What the Army will have a dilly of a time to prove is that Bergdahl didn't intend on coming back. General Dahl apparently believes to be the case.

How about the other charge, Article 99 - Misbehavior Before The Enemy; maximum punishment - Death. This is a "catch-all" article that has nine broad categories of offenses in a combat zone. When you do something wrong in a combat zone, this article is so broad in scope, it would be hard not to be guilty of something. Consequently, I imagine Bergdahl will be found guilty of one of them.

Having said that, it will be interesting nevertheless to see what the Army pursues because many of the elements of proof don't apply to Bergdahl. For example:

  • Running Away requires an intent to avoid combat. One of Bergdahl's gripes was that his commanders weren't doing enough to pursue the Taliban
  • Endangering the Safety of the Command needs show his conduct actually "endangered" the command. Bergdahl can argue he did everything he could not to endanger his comrades by his absence. The Army will argue back that the mere fact that he wasn't there is proof of endangerment
  • Casting Away Arms or Ammunition needs to show this actually happened. Bergdahl cast nothing away and he took a knife.
  • Cowardly Conduct needs to show he fear led to this conduct - Hardly.
  • Quitting Place of Duty to Plunder or Pillage - Nope
  • Causing False Alarm needs the Army to show, among other things, Bergdahl actually caused the alarm. The question I have is does his absence constitute "causing an alarm"?
  • The other three possibilities don't apply

New Questions to be Answered:

  • What is Army's complicity by signing up Bowe Bergdahl when they knew he was mentally unfit for duty?
  • How much did his mental problems play in making a very stupid decision?
  • If his real motivation was to report to another Army installation, how does that impact the charges against him?
  • Does is choice of departure time, if true, actually mitigate the "endangerment" aspect of Article 99?
  • Does his leaving constitute "giving false alarm" in terms of Article 99?

So, what do you think now?

© 2014 Scott Belford


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