The story of Bowe Bergdahl has more wrong turns and dead ends than a cheap mystery, which in a sense, it is.
By now everyone knows the story of the 23-year-old private first class in Afghanistan who, in June 2009, disappeared from his remote infantry post near the Pakistan border, triggering a massive search operation. Then came videos showing Bergdahl in captivity by the Taliban. Five years of torture and imprisonment followed, ending with a prisoner swap in May, 2014.
After the release, Bergdahl’s status as a hero quickly faded as talk of desertion surfaced, and when it was learned that his freedom has been won by releasing five Guantanamo prisoners, the incident took on political overtones.
In truth there was nothing sinister in his disappearance—he simply walked away. As to his rationale, he claims he was seeking another base to blow the whistle on commanders he considered incompetent and dangerous.
Bergdahl’s trial ended yesterday—there will be no jail time, but Bergdahl will face a dishonorable discharge. Donald Trump called the ruling a “total disgrace to our country and our military,” this after deeming Bergdahl “a traitor who deserves to be shot.” Yes, this is the same Donald Trump whom bone spurs kept out of the Viet Nam war.
When Trump used the word disgrace, he was spot on, but he forgot to attach it to himself.
I’m not a veteran, never participated in combat, and probably don’t know enough about this issue. But I know more than a man who gleans all his information from Fox News: if a draft-dodger can voice an opinion, so can I.
A dishonorable discharge is no trivial matter. It excises all military history from Bergdahl’s record, and thus disallows his access to medical (and psychological) assistance, which so many veterans need when returning from a war zone—especially a man tortured and imprisoned for half a decade. His family will take him in, of course, but unless there is some Congressional clemency, Bergdahl is condemned to a life of isolation and insanity, bereft of benefits veterans can access.
No one is saying Bergdahl is not guilty, and most non-idiots agree that he should not, as Trump suggests, be shot. Providing Bergdahl with benefits as a returned prisoner of war would not nullify the dishonorable discharge—that would stand—but it could provide humane treatment for someone who, by his own admission, did a “horrible thing” and imperiled the lives of his brothers. In the skewed logic of a young man with psychological problems, he thought he was doing a good deed for those men. He was wrong.
It is difficult to make a case for overlooking that decision, but it is even more difficult to make a case for further torture, especially when it comes at the behest of his bone-spur-afflicted Commander-in-Chief.
Bowe Bergdahl faced five years on the desertion charge and a life sentence for misbehavior. | Ted Richardson/AP
Bergdahl gets no prison time for leaving post
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
11/03/2017 11:45 AM EDT
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
A military judge has found that Bowe Bergdahl should serve no prison time for endangering his comrades by walking off his Afghanistan post.
The judge also gave Bergdahl a dishonorable discharge, reduced his rank to private and said he must forfeit pay equal to $1,000 per month for 10 months. The judge made no other comments.
Bergdahl appeared tense, grimaced and clenched his jaw. His attorneys put their arms around him and one patted him on the back.
Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy and had faced up to life in prison. The judge had wide leeway because Bergdahl made no deal with prosecutors to limit his sentence.
Prosecutors had sought stiff punishment because of wounds to service members who searched for Bergdahl after he disappeared in 2009.
The most reliable politics newsletter.
Sign up for POLITICO Playbook and get the latest news, every morning — in your inbox.
By signing up you agree to receive email newsletters or alerts from POLITICO. You can unsubscribe at any time.
The defense sought to counter that evidence with testimony about Bergdahl’s suffering during five years as a captive of Taliban allies, his contributions to military intelligence and survival instruction and his mental health problems.
In the view of many people, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl got off easy. His sentence for desertion and misbehavior before the enemy in Afghanistan in 2009, which was handed down Friday, included a dishonorable discharge and no jail time. Sergeant Bergdahl faced the possibility of life in a military prison, so his chief defense lawyer expressed “tremendous relief” at the sentence. But a dishonorable discharge is also a type of life sentence, a perpetual exile from the resources and communities that veterans, especially prisoners of war, need to heal and to reconcile with society.