Food For Thought - The GOP is Heading for a World of Hurt on Bergdahl
Thu Jun 05, 2014 at 06:20 AM PDT
UPDATED: The GOP is Heading for a World of Hurt on Bergdahl, here's whyby Hesiod
Yesterday, I posted a comment laying out several reasons why the GOP was basically walking into a trap on the Bowe Bergdahl story. It got such a positive response, that I decided to expand it into this diary. (You can follow me on twitter @hesiod2k11).
Since I posted the comment, there have been a few developments that even add MORE to my argument. So, without further ado....
As the actual FACTS start coming out about Bowe Bergdahl, here is what we know:
1. Bergdahl had left his base without permissions on at least one prior occasion, and had come back! This is according to a report in the Army Times. In fact, his fellow soldiers failed to report it at the time. The implications of this are huge. It means that it would be impossible to prove desertion under UCMJ Article 85, because you cannot prove he intended to leave permanently. Specifically, that article states:
(a) Any member of the armed forces who:
(1) without authority goes or remains absent from his unit, organization, or place of duty with intent to remain away therefrom permanently;
(2) quits his unit, organization, or place of duty with intent to avoid hazardous duty or to shirk important service; or
(3) without being regularly separated from one of the armed forces enlists or accepts an appointment in the same or another on of the armed forces without fully disclosing the fact that he has not been regularly separated, or enters any foreign armed service except when authorized by the United States; is guilty of desertion.
The only two provisions that remotely could be applicable to Bowe Bergdahl are subsections (1) and (2). The first one is eliminated by the fact that he had done this before. Given that he returned on the prior occasion, it would be extremely difficult to prove an intent to "remain away....permanently." The second subsection is also difficult to prove if he left his base at night, when he was not otherwise on duty. So, as a consequence, you can pretty much rule out Bergdahl being charged with "desertion."
At worst, he can be charged under Article 86: Absence Without Leave. That is a far less serious charge, and "time served" as a POW of the Haqqani network would probably be deemed sufficient punishment. Which, incidentally, would also considered an extenuating circumstance under that article.
UPDATE: The 35 page classified Army report (as reported to the New York Times) that was compiled 2 months after Bergdahl disappeared, concluded that he had left his unit twice, not once. And the Army blamed lax security practices and a lack of discipline. Moreover, the supposed letter he left confessing to everything was not mentioned in the report at all.
2. According to the now famous article by Michael Hastings about Bergdahl, his unit was basically a bunch of undisciplined fuck ups who went out on patrol without helmets, lost weapons, totally lacked morale and respect for military authority, etc. At least two commanders were actually demoted! So, you have to take with a grain of salt the accusations being made against Bergdahl by these people. Especially now that we know they failed to report Bergdahl left the base without permission on a prior occasion, and are still telling the media that he is a "deserter" when they know damn well that's not true.
3. The New York Times has also reported that it is almost impossible to attribute the losses the unit suffered to Bergdahl, or looking for Bergdahl. Given the lack of unit discipline, etc. One wonders whether Bergdahl is being scapegoated by these people, who were drummed up by GOP political operatives. You don't want to minimize the pain of the families of the lost soldiers. But, frankly, there is a tremendous amount of misinformation being pushed. And, a lot of speculation. It's just an unprovable allegation.
4. And, finally, Bergdahl's apparent heroism while in captivity has been almost completely ignored and glossed over. The Daily Beast originally reported that Bergdahl lulled his captors into believing he was sympathetic to them, and when they let their guard down he escaped for 3 days. When they finally found him in a hand-dug trench he covered with leaves, he was nearly naked an exhausted. Yet, it took 5 Taliban to subdue him as he fought back trying to avoid being recaptured.
Just last night, we found out that he escaped not once, but twice! Because of this, his captors kept moving him around and kept him under tight wraps. This made it exceedingly difficult and risky to attempt a rescue mission.
And, finally, the infamous "ashamed to be an American" e-mails that numbnuts like Sarah Palin keep using to attacking Bergdahl, were actually quite patriotic in context. He was complaining about the low caliber of person he had to suffer through in his unit, and how crappily they treated the Afghans (In one case, he said they indifferently ran over a child with a truck!). He was ashamed of the way the military operated there.
He was not expressing a desire to join the Taliban. He felt sympathy for the Afghan civilians who were being mistreated and abused by both sides. (These e-mails were reported in Michael Hastings' profile pieces).
When all is said and done, and Bergdahl is allowed to give his side of the story, the Republicans and Conservatives who were attacking him are going to regret it.
One other point on this that I didn't address in my comment. All of the crazy rightwingers who are suggesting that Bergdahl be executed for desertion are even more batshit crazy than it might seem at first. Even if he WAS guilty of desertion (a proposition which is extremely doubtful at this point), only one U.S. service member has been executed for the offense since the Civil War! That man was Pvt. Eddie Slovik during World War II. In his case, he signed a confession -- over the objections of his commanders! - and was defiant of military authority. Eventually, Dwight Eisenhower authorized his execution to set an example.
Moreover, in 1974 President Gerald Ford signed a conditional amnesty for Vietnam War deserters, if they agreed to two years of public service in some other capacity.
And, finally, the lone soldier convicted in connection with the My Lai massacre of Civillian Vietnamese villagers during Vietnam -- Lt. William Calley -- had his sentence reduced to House arrest and then finally commuted to time served by President Nixon after 3 years.
And, to make this even more pertinent, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who plead guilty to murdering 16 Afghan Civilians in their homes, was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
In other words, the batshit rightwingers want to impose a sentence on Bowe Bergdahl that is a) unsupported by any evidence; b) hasn't been imposed on a US Soldier in 70 years, and only once in 140 years; and c) more harsh than what was imposed on convicted mass murderers of civilians.