News reports this morning indicate that Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the man held by the Taliban from 2009 to 2014, will plead guilty to counts of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, instead of facing court-martial proceedings.
His lawyer isn’t talking, and the military isn’t going to disclose any gossip about his reasoning. But clearly, if he thought he could beat the rap, he’d want to proceed with evidence and deliberation by a jury.
A lot has to go unspoken, at least to the public, in these matters. It is noteworthy, however, that Bergdahl was lionized by top members of the Obama administration, and yet now is prepared to plead guilty so he won’t have to face evidence and deliberation by a panel of soldiers. One theory would be that under the new administration, the Army was going to bring a lot of damning evidence and testimony to the court-martial about just what it cost Bergdahl’s unit — and other military units — to have to spend months trying to recover him, under conditions of grave danger.
The authority to bring additional evidence could well have resulted in more charges and harsher penalties for Bergdahl, who faces up to five years for the desertion charge, and life for the misbehavior charge.
It was Susan Rice who insisted in 2014 that Bergdahl had “served with honor and distinction.” But President Obama did his part by honoring Bergdahl’s parents in a White House media event — at which Bergdahl’s father spoke words in Arabic, explaining that his son was “having trouble speaking English.”
Of course, the Taliban speak Pashto, or in some cases Urdu, and know some Arabic in order to study the Quran and worship. They would not have used Arabic with Bergdahl for routine, 24/7 communication.
So that was weird, but so was the Obama administration’s follow-on move: having the opening sequence of Bergdahl Senior’s comments removed from the official transcript, because the words were “Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim”; i.e., “In the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate.”
Getting Bergdahl back from the Taliban involved releasing five of the terrorists being held at Guantanamo Bay, a significant move with long-term implications for the viability and reconstitution of the Taliban. (At least one had returned to jihad six months later.)
At the time of the swap, there had been reports for years that Bergdahl had deserted (and reports that the Obama administration was well aware of it. See here as well). Nevertheless, the extremely lopsided trade was made — although the administration violated federal law by failing to inform Congress of it. Pundits speculated at the time that the effort to make Bergdahl a hero was intended to obscure the bad prisoner swap.
In fact, the Obama White House went so far as to accuse members of Bergdahl’s unit of “swift-boating” him. An official in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (!) speculated that Bergdahl did whatever he did because “his platoon was long on psychopaths and short on leadership.” Deputy Assistant Secretary Brandon Friedman suggested that if that were the case, “the soldiers in his platoon would have all the more reason to smear him publicly now.”
Smearing the soldiers who had to deal with the aftermath of Bergdahl’s desertion, which upended their lives and mission for months and arguably got at least two soldiers killed, was the worst of the Obama administration reaction. But the administration’s defenders also attacked Republicans for supposedly manufacturing bad news about the swap. And ultimately, the administration distanced itself from the unpopular swap with the Taliban, and blamed it on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Americans have understood for some time that the whole narrative about Bergdahl being captured by the Taliban and behaving nobly in captivity was a disgraceful con job. His fellow soldiers were so disgusted by it that, when the false narrative was touted to explain the prisoner swap in June 2014, they broke a silence imposed by military order to tell the truth to the public.
The Obama White House had to roll out the big guns — accusations that opponents of the prisoner swap simply “hated Obama” — to try to contain the situation.
The repellent situation needed only the news that the administration considered paying a ransom for Bergdahl. But it didn’t need it for long. Subsequent reporting suggested that a ransom was paid, and the recipient absconded with the cash, without producing Bergdahl.
When the Army decided, in January 2015, to bring charges against Bergdahl, the Obama White House reportedly sought to at least delay the proceedings, if it couldn’t stop them.
This is shaping up to be titanic struggle behind the scenes. The Army here wants to do the right thing. Factually, there is no way they cannot do the right thing regarding Bergdahl, and the White House because of the political narrative, President Obama cozying up to the parents and because the President Obama releases five Taliban — by the way those five Taliban were never briefed to senior leadership to the Pentagon before it happened. The narrative is White House does not want to have of course they don’t want it look, the White House can’t tell the Army not to charge him with desertion.
The proceedings were delayed, for two and a half years. Now there’s a new administration, and the Army is able to do what it should have been able to do more than three years ago. And Bergdahl has quietly folded, and accepted a guilty plea — very possibly for the least level of punishment he was going to get.