So Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is officially a deserter. This ruling should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever put on a uniform, had a relative who served or has ever read anything about military justice.
Once you have taken the oath, there are certain things you do not do. You do not give aid and comport to the enemy; You do not obstruct the chain of command and you do not desert your comrades. Bergdahl did all of these things.
Bergdahl abandoned his post. No matter how you try to sugar coat it, that is desertion. I know countless men and women who were sent to places they would not normally have on their travel itinerary. They did not run off but followed orders and went where they were told.
Some people may think that this blind obedience to orders strips a person of their individuality and they would be correct. If everyone just did as they pleased there would be chaos. The basic premise of any military organization is uniformity. Thinking for yourself is a sure way to get yourself, and others, killed. That is why the military awards medals to people who place their comrades above their own safety.
When Bergdahl removed himself from the order of battle he obstructed the chain of command and placed others at risk. On June 30, 2009, Bergdahl left his post after he reportedly “expressed misgivings about the U.S. military’s role, as well as his own, in the Afghanistan war.”
I have spoken with vets from Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan who, at some level, questioned why they were sent to war. I hear fewer doubts from the Persian Gulf vets than any other group of veterans. I believe every person in the service at one time or another, questions the sanity of the person in command. That does not mean they would ever mutiny against that leadership. I recall poking fun at various Lieutenants, Captains and even a Major but never a sergeant.
Bergdahl, 28, was captured by the Taliban and held by members of the Haqqani network, an insurgent group tied to the Taliban that operates both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. During that time he was probably tortured to some degree and undoubtedly treated badly. That should not factor into the original charge.
He was not captured on a battlefield but walked off into a hostile country where he was, almost predictably, taken prisoner. It was his choice to walk away. It is as simple as that.
Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the misbehavior charge could land Bergdahl in prison for life. He also could be dishonorably discharged and forfeit all his pay if convicted on either charge.
Bergdahl will be tried in a military court and that is different than a civilian court. An Article 32 hearing, similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding, will be held at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where Bergdahl has been performing administrative duties. A date was not announced. From there, it could be referred to a court-martial and go to trial.
Perhaps the best judgment on Bergdahl comes from a man who served with him, Cody Full, 26, of Houston. “The military’s obviously a very rough job. ... But everybody else stayed with the oath and did what they signed up to do,” Full said. “And as a result of that, some didn’t get to come home.”
He also said Bergdahl should serve a lengthy sentence to send a message to anyone who considers deserting in the future.
Last May Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. special forces in Afghanistan as part of an exchange for five Taliban commanders who were imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That appears to have been a poor trade.