Herbert London: The Bergdahl Decision

Nov 8, 2017

The Bergdahl military hearing at Fort Bragg has finally reached a conclusion. U.S. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has received a dishonorable discharge, but a military judge ruled he will avoid prison time for desertion and misbehavior before the enemy after abandoning his post in 2009.

There are several factors that may account for the seemingly mild judgement since many (including yours truly) believe Bergdahl was guilty of the higher crime of treason. One, he was held captive for five years by the Taliban and probably tortured. Two, several of those who served with him made favorable comments about his military service. Three, Bergdahl's attorneys asked Colonel Nance, the Army Judge for a "dishonorable discharge." Four, it is alleged that Bergdahl is suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) which was undiagnosed when he left his post. Five, there was the claim Bergdahl suffered from a schizotypal personality disorder prior to military service. Last, Bergdahl's willingness to share information and cooperate with investigators warranted some leniency.

However, lest we forget, Bergdahl put other soldiers in danger. Despite his trauma, he had to realize desertion would jeopardize those attempting a rescue operation. One witness pointed out the platoon that searched for him went without food and limited water for 19 days. Chief Petty Officer James Hatch came under fire while looking for Bergdahl; he was shot in the leg and has had 18 surgeries in the aftermath.

It is noteworthy that the Bergdahl case has had an effect on military morale. The Army code includes the belief that you do not abandon your fellow soldiers in battle. That is axiomatic. After the Bergdahl hearing, that matter is somewhat ambiguous.

Perhaps the one issue that remains unambiguous is the role played by President Barack Obama. By honoring Bergdahl in 2012, despite a full 2009 Army report indicating his desertion from duty, the president intentionally misled the American public and has contributed to the cynical belief you cannot trust comments emanating from the White House. When National Security Advisor to President Obama, Susan Rice, maintained that Bergdahl represented the Army with "honor and distinction," she undermined the heroism of thousands who have defended the principles in this land of the free.

In some ways, the Bergdahl case is a contemporary exercise in post modernism. What you believe to be true often isn't. Not only is truth elusive, it has been buried beneath the desire for political gain. Bergdahl was not a victim, albeit some will make this argument. He was an instrument to be used by the president in his desire to empty Gitmo. Five Gitmo prisoners were exchanged for Bergdahl and three are now fighting for al Qaeda. I have it on good authority that the Taliban were prepared to return Bergdahl for cash exclusively. But that as not what the president wanted. As a consequence, the United States paid a price in spiritual loss, political legerdemain and military morale.

Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research,  a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org

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