WASHINGTON – Remember Sargent Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier who had been a Taliban prisoner for 5 years and then was freed in 2014 in exchange for 5 Taliban officials held by the US at Guantanamo Bay? Right at the time of the exchange, the Obama administration presented this prisoners’ swap as some kind of victory.
Well, today we learn that Sargent Bergdhal, after a lengthy investigation on the circumstances of his disappearance from his base in Afghanistan, and subsequent capture by the Taliban in 2009, will be tried for desertion by a US Court Martial.
Come again? The war hero was probably a deserter? And the Obama administration did not know about this? Well, apparently not. We were told at the time that the American government secretly negotiated the release of one of our brave soldiers. “Yes, it was complicated. But we did it. We take care of our own”.
In fact, President Obama was so proud of this achievement that he made a public White House announcement of the prisoners’ exchange, with Bergdhal’s parents next to him.
Administration could not control the story
But then, after the White House “good news” announcement, something started moving in a bad direction. Other soldiers who had served with Bergdhal in Afghanistan said in various interviews that he had voluntarily left his post, without any authorization.
In other words, in their view, Bergdhal was in fact a deserter who was later on captured by the Taliban.
“Honor and distinction”?
Well, that did not fit the narrative of the brave soldier who suffered in captivity and was later on rescued by a provident US government. And so the administration tried to change the picture.
They dispatched National Security Adviser Susan Rice to appear on TV shows where the poor lady had to say that Bergdhal served his country “with honor and distinction”.
But the stories of Bergdhal’s probable desertion did not go away. Of course, this made Susan Rice look foolish, or worse. In the end, the administration could not fix this public relations debacle. In the meantime, the Army was left with the Bergdhal hot potato. They did not know what to do with him. They gave him a desk job somewhere.
Still, given all the controversy, shouldn’t the bizarre circumstances of his disappearance from his post in Afghanistan be investigated? Well, may be. But it took months for any investigation to get going. And then this thing dragged on and on.
In hindsight, it is obvious that the White House wanted to create as much distance as possible between the Obama-announced release and the final fate of this soldier.
Finally, only now, we are getting somewhere. Bergdhal will be tried by a US Court Martial on charges of desertion.
Hero, or deserter?
Of course, this being America, a charge does not equal to a conviction. But we are talking about a potential deserter who was portrayed by the President of the United States, and by the White House National Security Adviser as a war hero who had been liberated thanks to the relentless efforts of this administration, after 5 long years of captivity.
A story of incompetence
If you think about it, this Bergdhal story illustrates an incredible degree of incompetence and superficiality. Nobody checked the records. Nobody did any homework about Bergdhal and about how he left his post in Afghanistan.
They allowed the President of the United States to embarrass himself with the public announcement of “a war hero finally coming home”. They forced Susan Rice to say on TV something that was clearly not true about Bergdhal having served with honor and distinction.
Nobody wants to connect the dots
Having said all this, what is truly surprising, in fact alarming, is that today, after the official announcement of the Court Martial proceedings about to begin, nobody is connecting the dots. Nobody is going back to how this story was initially presented. Nobody wants to point out the obvious fact that this whole prisoners’ exchange operation was mismanaged. Now, it looks like an unsupervised Junior High School Project that went terribly wrong.
For some reason the media just do not want to say that this administration did all this, all by itself. Talk about unforced errors!
Still, for some reason, the context of Bergdhal’s disappearance, capture by the Taliban, and eventual release following the prisoners’ swap has been forgotten.
This is a bad sign. Indeed, the first sign of a declining republic is when we forget to hold our public officials accountable.
As for Sargent Bergdhal, everything we heard about him indicates that he is mentally disturbed. Most likely at the time of his (alleged) desertion he had no treasonous motives. He did something stupid, inspired by stupid fantasies.
Still, whatever his mental state then and now, what he probably did is called desertion. And, no, this behavior is not an indication of a soldier who served America with honor and distinction.