WASHINGTON, June 4, 2014 — It is becoming clear that the Obama Administration and the Defense Department have sold America a bill of goods with regards to the Bowe Bergdahl homecoming story.
The official story was that Bergdahl was abducted by Taliban forces in Afghanistan, but more and more evidence suggests that he willfully abandoned his post and exposed himself to capture.
The media narrative is that objections to the secret negotiations leading to Bergdahl’s release are pure partisan politics. However, in the military community, a smoldering rage is growing as the facts surrounding Bergdahl’s disappearance emerge.
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The Obama Administration has avoided clarity in explaining those facts. In response to reporters’ questions about Bergdahl’s possible status as a deserter, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday, “We would characterize him as a member of the military who was detained while in combat.”
National Security Advisor Susan Rice returned to the airwaves unchastened from her experience last time, when she spread non-information about events in Benghazi. This time she observed that Bergdahl “served the United States with honor and distinction.”
Evidence suggests that Rice’s comments about Bergdahl are as un-anchored in fact as her comments about Benghazi.
Army Major Michael Waltz, a commander of Special Forces in Eastern Afghanistan during Bergdahl’s disappearance, told McClatchy News, “He just walked off after guard duty and wandered into the nearby village.”
Despite a gag order from the Defense Department, one of Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers told reporters that Bergdahl had written a desertion note and left it behind for them. In it, he had called his battalion commander a “conceited old fool” and his peers an “army of liars, backstabbers, fools and bullies.”
The New York Times described the account:
Sometime after midnight on June 30, 2009, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl left behind a note in his tent saying he had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan and was leaving to start a new life. He slipped off the remote military outpost in Paktika Province on the border with Pakistan and took with him a soft backpack, water, knives, a notebook and writing materials, but left behind his body armor and weapons — startling, given the hostile environment around his outpost.
The men in Bergdahl’s platoon are exposing Bergdahl’s disappearance for what it was; they are outraged at the false narrative the White House and the media have been dispensing.
“Yes, I’m angry,” Joshua Cornelison, a former medic in Sergeant Bergdahl’s platoon, said in an interview. “Everything that we did in those days was to advance the search for Bergdahl. If we were doing some mission and there was a reliable report that Bergdahl was somewhere, our orders were that we were to quit that mission and follow that report.”
To make matters worse, Bergdahl’s desertion triggered efforts to locate and rescue him that probably claimed the lives of other soldiers.
Pfc. Matthew Martinek and Lt. Darryn Andrews were members of Bergdahl’s unit in the 501st Infantry Regiment who were killed in an ambush that may have been staged in response to the search for Bergdahl. Cody Full, a member of Bergdahl’s platoon describes him as detached from his comrades and not focused on the mission. Full says that Bergdahl speculated on the possibilities of a trek from the mountainous region they were camped in to India and ultimately, perhaps even China.
Bergdahl’s attitude prior to his departure are summed up in an email he sent to his parents.
“Life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. … I am ashamed to even be American”.’
Nathan Bradley Bethea, also part of the 501st, writes convincingly of the consequences of Bergdahl’s desertion:
Make no mistake: Bergdahl did not “lag behind on a patrol,” as was cited in news reports at the time. There was no patrol that night. Bergdahl was relieved from guard duty, and instead of going to sleep, he fled the outpost on foot. He deserted. I’ve talked to members of Bergdahl’s platoon — including the last Americans to see him before his capture. I’ve reviewed the relevant documents. That’s what happened.
Bethea doesn’t support the Defense Department’s whitewash of Berg’s desertion or their claims that the search for Bergdahl cannot conclusively be connected with casualties related to it:
His disappearance translated into daily search missions across the entire Afghanistan theater of operations, particularly ours. The combat platoons in our battalion spent the next month on daily helicopter-insertion search missions (called “air assaults”) trying to scour villages for signs of him. Each operations would send multiple platoons and every enabler available in pursuit: radio intercept teams, military working dogs, professional anthropologists used as intelligence gathering teams, Afghan sources in disguise. They would be out for at least 24 hours. I know of some who were on mission for 10 days at a stretch. In July, the temperature was well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit each day.
Among the incidents that Bethea connects to the intense search for Bergdahl are the mass attack by Taliban forces on Combat Outpost Zerok on July 4, 2009. Veterans of that attack believe that the Taliban received intelligence that a large number of 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry based there were out on patrol searching for Bergdahl’s whereabouts, thus the outpost was particularly vulnerable.
Killed in this attack were Privates First Class Aaron Fairbairn and Justin Casillas. Bethea identifies six other soldiers whose deaths can be connected by circumstances involved in the search effort for Bergdahl.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Dempsey told the Associated Press that U.S. military leaders “have been accused of looking away from misconduct” but said “it’s premature” to assume they would do so in Bergdahl’s case. This suggests that an investigation is by no means off the table. Many in the military community are calling for a court martial proceeding against Bergdahl.
Eugene R. Fidell, an expert on the Uniform Code of Military Justice, said it’s important to remember that it’s “completely discretionary” as to whether commanders decide to prosecute reported violations. An official preliminary report of violations must be prepared, although he notes that in Bergdahl’s case, “there’s certainly enough already known to suggest that an act of desertion was committed.”
One of the looming questions is why, in light of the obvious nature of Bergdahl’s willful departure, did the Pentagon give him a promotion to the rank of sergeant in his absence?
Another consequence of Bergdahl’s conduct is the release of five dangerous detainees at Guantanamo. There are already reports that the former detainees, closely associated with al Queda, are roaming freely in Qatar. The security agreement with regard to the five was clearly not stringent, and they will continue to be a threat to our national security.
The legitimacy of Obama’s actions in the prisoner swap is open to strong question.
But should you be angry at Bowe Bergdahl? He may very well have abandoned his post. And he has paid dearly for that. But should we have abandoned Bergdahl as we leave Afghanistan?
This appears to have been yet another unilateral action by an imperial president, violating existing laws and the Presidential Oath of Office. Obama’s previous scandals are already a pile of possible high crimes and misdemeanors resembling a pile of Jenga blocks. He’s playing a game fraught with hazards and dangers to a society organized around the rule of law, not the rule of men.
Congressional inquiry that can lead to impeachment is long overdue, but impeachment is not just a matter of high crimes and misdemeanors. It is a political game.
The political will to impeach this president is not sufficient to spur Congress to fulfill its responsibility.