Point/Counterpoint: How should the U.S. handle the case of Bowe Bergdahl?

BY DI STAFF | APRIL 01, 2015 5:00 AM

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After reportedly leaving a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban and spent five years in captivity. He was released as part of a prisoner exchange. Should he face the full punishment of military law?

Bergdahl’s crimes warrant punishment

The U.S. Army announced last week that Srgt. Bowe Bergdahl would be charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Given the disgraceful nature with which Bergdahl performed while in the Army, the charges against him are not only fair but perhaps do not go far enough.

During his service, he became embittered with the war effort. He wrote to his father the he was “ashamed” to be an American, complaining that “life is way too short … to spend it helping fools.”

Rather than encouraging his son to carry on with his duty, his father replied, “Obey your conscience.” Despite the obligations he made to his country and fellow soldiers, Bergdahl did exactly what his father told him. In June 2009, he abandoned his platoon in eastern Afghanistan.

The Army was quick to react, and the 501st Parachute Infantry became increasingly focused on personnel recovery after Bergdahl vanished. During this rescue effort that six soldiers died.

Bergdahl claims he was captured and remained a prisoner of the Taliban for five years.

In May 2014, the United States was able to retrieve Bergdahl in a prisoner swap that resulted in five senior Taliban commanders being released. Many in Congress were outraged that the Obama administration had ignored the statements of Bergdahl’s own platoon-mates and made up their own story for political reasons. National Security Adviser Susan Rice described Bergdahl as serving with “honor and distinction.” To this date, this claim stands as a mystery, unsupported by any facts.

Sgt. Matt Vierkant, a member of the platoon, was furious with both Bergdahl and the Obama administration’s deception. He said, “I was pissed off then, and I am even more so now with everything going on.” The parents of Lt. Darryn Andrews, one of the men who died looking for Bergdahl, shared Vierkant’s sentiment. They said, “I think people need to be aware that the guy was not a hero, and American lives have been lost trying to save this deserter.”

The military could not be clearer regarding the seriousness of desertion. The Uniform Code of Military Justice, a federal law enacted by Congress, states that the punishment can be as severe as death.

Bergdahl claims that he was tortured, beaten with a copper cable, chained, and held in a cage while he was imprisoned. While I cannot begin to imagine that experience, it is his own traitorous and gravely irresponsible behavior that landed him in this situation. It also led to the deaths of innocent men. It is not farfetched to assume that the released Taliban leaders are now assisting ISIS in the Middle East. How many more innocent people lost their lives because of them?

The specific charges the Army has against Bergdahl include a maximum of life imprisonment, dishonorable discharge, and the elimination of all pay and benefits. If the testimony of Bergdahl’s platoon-mates is accurate, which I believe it is, I sincerely hope he receives the maximum retribution for his crimes.

Michael Korobov

No bars for Bergdahl

A U.S. soldier on tour in Afghanistan by the name of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl went missing in June 2009 and was then captured and detained by Taliban forces until May 2014. In a deal cut with the Taliban, he was back in American hands at the cost of releasing five Taliban prisoners from the facility at Guantánamo Bay. He is now being charged with both desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

People have claimed that the deal made for the safe return of Bergdahl was a bad one on the American end: a reported cost of $1 million for intelligence and then, ultimately, those five who were detained at Guantánamo. According to a 2013 estimate by Harvard economist Linda Bilmes, costs of both the Afghan and Iraq wars come out to a total cost of around $4 trillion to $6 trillion.

Spending $1 million to bring a soldier home, rather than $6 trillion to send them to war, seems like a drop in the bucket to me. As for the Taliban detainees? With the consistently shady history of America’s Cuban-based prison, five fewer human beings incarcerated there doesn’t seem all too bad.

The repercussions of a guilty charge of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy could carry a sentence of life behind bars, as if an ordeal as traumatizing and mentally strenuous as being detained abroad for five years wasn’t enough?

Though some could argue that because of his alleged desertion, the closing of Combat Outpost Keating was delayed, resulting in the deaths of eight Americans on Oct. 3, 2009, when 300 Taliban soldiers overran the outpost. Of course what happened to the “no man left behind” morality of the U.S. Army? I suppose things are different in terms of accusations of desertion. But even then, if we’re looking for retribution for casualties of war, then we ought to put a few people on trial for the countless misguided drone strikes, resulting in the death of many innocent bystanders. Or are Middle Eastern lives not worth as much as American lives?

Even Bill O’Reilly can see the harsh nature of this possible conviction when on the airing of “The O’Rielly Factory” March 23, he said, “I would not send him to prison. I think we have to how some mercy here, because the guy has suffered.”

This entire situation seems to be absurd. Instead of letting this man return home and rebuild his life, he is being dragged through another ordeal. Though it seems to be a bit late to let him peacefully reintegrate into civilian life, the least that could be done at this point is to let him at least attempt a civilian life.

Jack Dugan

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