Why You’re Wrong About the President and Bergdahl

Updated: March 26, 2015


By Salil Puri

With the Army’s announcement today that Bowe Bergdahl will be charged with desertion, soldiers all over were elated. At the same time, many troops, veterans, and politicians seized on these charges to once again attack the President over the negotiation and trade of five Afghan Taliban prisoners for Bergdahl. They are all wrong. You might be too. Now, many of you are already probably angry, maybe even starting to foam at the mouth. I understand that. Take a deep breath, and try to second guess yourself. Think about why you might be wrong. Think of it as an exercise in critical thinking. Consider, for just one moment, that there might be factors you aren’t aware of, or that hadn’t been presented to you before. Let’s walk down that road for a moment, shall we?

First, the President did not trade Bergdahl, E-5 type (he won’t be honored here by reference to his rank) for five terrorists. He was exchanged for five prisoners of the recognized and deposed Afghan government. Neither Clinton, Bush, or Obama ever had the Afghan Taliban labeled as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. They were a government that both Clinton and Bush recognized, and even provided foreign aid to, before 9/11. We exchanged Redcoats for prisoners during the Revolution, Nazis for POWs in WWII, and Viet Cong for GI’s in Vietnam. Prisoner exchanges are a legal and robust part of American military history.

Secondly, it is a sacred responsibility for the President to recover captured troops. It doesn’t matter that Bergdahl is a shitbag, it doesn’t matter that he deserted. What matters is that he was an enlisted man in the US Army, and an American. How many Afghan lives do you think are worth an American service-member’s?

Now, many people who are certain he deserted are saying the President shouldn’t have traded for Bergdahl because Bergdahl deserted. Many of these people despise the President with a deep-rooted partisan loathing. Some of those people might even be reading this right now. So, take a moment, think about what you’ve been arguing. You want to give the President, a man you despise, carte blanche to abdicate his duty towards men and women in uniform, based on allegations? Really? Follow that rabbit hole down for a minute, and see where it leads.

A soldier, or perhaps a diplomat, or maybe an intelligence officer, gets abducted overseas. Maybe this individual has some public or private disagreement with some high ranking member of the Executive Office. Perhaps if enough people are convinced the abductee is traitorous, he is labeled an Enemy of the State. So then we don’t demand the President do everything he can to recover this individual? Are you comfortable with that? Probably not, but that’s exactly what many people are advocating the President should have done. What about you?

bergdahlSo let’s talk about allegations. Allegations are not charges. Charges are not convictions. I am 99.5% convinced that Bergdahl deserted his post. But neither my opinion nor yours matters one whit, because all of us who wear the uniform swore an oath to defend the US Constitution. That beloved document speaks to a concept known as Due Process. Within UCMJ, Bergdahl is guaranteed that due process, just like everyone else in uniform. Are we a nation of laws, or a nation of men, where rights are tossed out because the man in question isn’t winning any popularity contests?

Bergdhal is one of ours. He’s an American soldier. He has a history of mental illness, and the Army enlisted him despite his rejection by the US Coast Guard. Mentally ill people often do irrational things. That doesn’t excuse his behavior, and he will be tried in a Court Martial. If convicted, he will likely be stripped of his rank, forfeit pay, and hopefully spend a long time in prison. I bear not ounce ounce of sympathy for Bergdahl. Nor do I ask you to. I merely ask that you recognize that he is a uniformed soldier who has been accused of a grave crime, and it is up to us, America, and the United States Army, to charge, try, convict, and punish him. That’s our right, our responsibility, not the Haqqani Network’s.

Now, if you’re still angry with me, the floor is yours.


Salil Puri is an NCO and member of the Psychological Operations regiment. With an undergraduate degree in four disciplines, psychology, history, government, and Middle Eastern Studies, and an MA in security policy, Mr. Puri applies his military and academic background to solving world problems and making people angry, as he assuredly just did. A consultant with the Culper Group, he can be reached via [email protected].  The opinions expressed here are his alone, not the Army’s not the Culper Group’s, not The Rhino Den’s, just his.




  1. dnice

    March 26, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    Yes it is ideal to give him Due Process. But if he switched sides why (lets table the alleged mental illness for now)?

    Even assuming he is entitled to Due Process, it is the means by which he was able to be afforded Due Process. Yeah we have swap prisoners before – great. What is the cost of doing so especially in our fight against ISIS and AQ? I don’t think the swap will deter our enemies from kidnapping Americans, especially Soldiers, et. al.

    Lastly, what about Benghazi and the President’s sacred responsibility? The reality is the Administration weighs its decisions in warfare primarily on the political risk/benefits. Bergdahl passed the test. Benghazi did not for them.

    • Murphy

      March 26, 2015 at 12:30 pm

      It is not ideal to give him due process, it is required.
      He is entitled to due process, there is no assumption; it is fact. Swallow it.
      Just because Benghazi and Bergdahl both start with a “B” does not make them the same thing. The discussion is about POW’s not Diplomats.

      • dnice

        March 27, 2015 at 5:45 am

        Come on Murph. Do you really think the Administration did this because of a sacred duty?

  2. Liam Connaughton

    March 26, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    Bergdahl plea deal . . . offered BCD (Bad Conduct Discharge) and suspended prison sentence, released immediately for “time served”; . . . later his BCD is upgraded to General Discharge, with restoration of benefits and POW status . . . bets anyone?

  3. Jim

    March 26, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    Well, one can’t use the “foreign terrorist organization” argument because these five douches were/are in fact terrorists who planned and conducted terrorist ops. They were not just members of the Taliban government.
    Historically, prisoner exchanges and no we didn’t exchange prisoners with the Nazis, or Imperial Japan or Soviet Russia BTW; are equals for equals. In other words the Tali should’ve got back x number of operators NOT senior planners and commanders for BB.
    The author makes much of ascribing too much political animosity to those of us who think the American lives lost to retrieve this loser was not worth the expenditure. However, not ascribing ANY political motive behind the exchange (I can think of at least two foreign policy agendas this would forward-and I’m not that bright) is extremely naïve.

  4. James Alexander

    March 26, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    My only gripe with the agreement, and the argument made is the line ‘how many Afghan lives is one soldier worth?’ (Paraphrasing)
    Was five too many, or not enough? What if they had said, “everyone in Gitmo”? Or they set a standard…say 10:1 ? Would we automatically say yes? Reportedly, they got their wish list….how is that negotiating?

  5. yeahbuddy

    March 26, 2015 at 10:48 pm

    Getting the deserter back was a good thing, but trading 5 dangerous individuals for him and thereby giving terrorists the world over an incentive to kidnap military personnel was wrong. The fact that the President violated policy and then attempted to capitalize politically by touting Bergdahl as an honorable soldier and hosting his parents at the white house made it even worse. Citing historical precedent regarding this exchange is misleading. Making prisoner exchanges is not some immutable law of war for us…we’ve done it when it has been in our interest. Grant refused to continue exchanging prisoners with the south when it became clear this policy was detrimental to union war aims. Many Union soldiers perished in Andersonville, but from a strategic perspective Grant made the right call. Even if Bergdahl had been an honorable soldier it would still have been wrong for Obama to release five dangerous enemies in exchange for him.

  6. Liz

    March 28, 2015 at 3:14 am

    Can we trade him to Russia for Edward Snowden’s safe and non-punishable return?

  7. Ron Lawrence

    March 28, 2015 at 7:05 am

    This article is a load of spoiled tripe. The positions that the author takes just aren’t realistic nor factual in time of war.

  8. Dan M.

    March 28, 2015 at 9:25 am

    When a soldier defects to the opposition, he has now become an enemy combatant. If he had a rifle in his hand and attempting to shoot American soldiers, would they not shoot back to kill?
    The US soldiers that searched for Burgdahl became aware, rather quickly, that intell had been given to their enemy about tactics the US soldiers employed. They knew that this had come from Burgdahl. It is the same as a rifle aiming at you, though as a true coward would do it.
    The POTUS intelligence was lacking in many details, and the narrative went south rather quickly, and now the cry for “no soldier left behind” is laughable. The authors attempt to use cognitive thinking and personal bias against informed thought is laughable.

  9. Kevin

    March 28, 2015 at 11:47 am

    Bowe Bergdahl left his unit for moral reasons, due to concerns he had about things that were going on in his unit. It is very possible that he left a letter on his bunk explaining what he was doing. mysteriously, that litter disappeared. he had also asked his platoon leader if he left me with his weapons and sensitive equipment would he get into trouble. The platoon leader said yes, he would. So, it’s possible, even likely, he informed the platoon leader of his plans and the platoon members are covering it up.

  10. Colin Frush

    March 28, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    My issue here is that Obama traded 5 terrorist prisoners for an American soldier, against the laws of this country, & our policy to not negotiate with terrorists. I understand the prisoner of war trades that have gone on in past wars, to bring soldiers home. Those were soldiers, prisoners of WAR, who had been captured in the performance of their duty to their country, not terrorists, who were out to destroy Americans on a very large scale, who are hell-bent on continuing that aim now that they are free to do so, thanks to Obama. We have a duty to our military to bring them home if they are captured, & attempts were made to do just that with berggy boy, which failed. Lives were lost & forever altered because of those attempts, sadly enough. Respect to those soldiers who performed those duties, knowing they were going out to retrieve a piece of shit. They did their job, & did it very well. The trading of 5 terrorists for that piece of shit was a huge mistake, both in the intelligence aspect of allowing leaders of terrorist groups free, & serving notice to terrorists all across the globe that we will not hang or shoot them for their acts of terrorism against the United States. These guys were not prisoners of war, they were prisoners because they were/are terrorists! HUGE difference, people, & it seems most are forgetting that fact! Obama set 5 terrorists free, to retrieve one American. Without approval of any oversight committee, which is the law of this country. Granted, he got an American home, but the way he went about it was not legal, & it was not a sound practice in the fight against terrorism. Let us all hope that nothing like this ever happens again, so Obama can set even more terrorists free, for whatever reason!

  11. Slade Paladin

    March 28, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    I have read understand most arguments posted here. My comment is we have spent too much time on Bergdahl and Obama; that this entire debate seems to be focusing on the wrong topic. I am writing to comment on the men who died looking for Bergdahl; Sgt. 1st Class MARK ALLEN, his wife, PFC MORRIS WALKER, Staff Sgt. CLAYTON BOWEN, Staff Sgt. KURT CURTIS, Lt. DARREN ANDREWS, PFC MATTHEW MARTINEK, Staff Sgt. MICHAEL MURPHY, their families, friends, and brothers in arms, some whom I may have failed to list, and those we don’t know about, who died, or continue to suffer because of Bergdahl’s and Obama’s actions. I prefer to discuss these men and the integrity of Bergdahl‘s platoon mates, the honor and sacrifice of all these men, not argue over politics, legal opinions, and personal feelings about Bergdahl. We have spent too much time on him and Obama. Could anyone comment or note any other service members relating to Bergdahl’s desertion, who have sacrificed, along with their families, friends and comrades in arms, and comment or suggest how we might honor and help these fellow Americans, as it seems apparent that neither the current administration nor the news media is interested, at least not at this point in time.

  12. Komment Cat

    March 28, 2015 at 11:13 pm

    I read most of the ‘Deserter’ comments. I didn’t see any from actual congress or government Officials. I am NOT one of the conspiracy Theory kooks…but I know enough to realize everything is Not disclosed on the News. The Soldier is either an actual deserter…or a brave hero that volunteered on a dangerous thankless info-recovery mission. How to get a man ‘inside..?’….hmmmmm…What if….? If you think the public is totally caught up on all military strategy….when dealing with asshole terrorists that do not value their own lives…..you are nieve. The right people are handling this ..so you can sleep easy.

  13. Jonathon Barrett

    March 29, 2015 at 6:19 am

    I think we would have handled this with a more level head if he was brought up on those charges right off the bat, instead of having the illusion that he was some kind of hero, shoved down our throats. The president neither acknowledged the desertion allegations, nor the six that died looking for him. No one in the white house gave a damn, and that’s what sickens me about this, and justifies our anger. They waited this long to even pursue the investigation because they didn’t want the president to look like an asshole for calling him a hero over and over.

  14. Connie lapek

    March 29, 2015 at 7:17 am

    As the wife of a retired US Marine and the mother of a US Soldier my only opinion is that this person (I would be incorrect to refer to him as either a man or a Soldier) is not worth the time or expense it will take to prosecute him. It sickens me to even hear anything about him. Let’s talk more about the families that were destroyed (or will be by the terrorists that are now in the wind ) on his behalf. Shame…..all the way around

  15. Ray Doy

    March 29, 2015 at 8:25 am

    Regarding Bergdahl and Pres Obama’s dealings with Bergdahl, the service members are upset that Pres Obama glorified him to the press.

  16. Chris

    March 29, 2015 at 9:49 am

    No mention of the 6 GI’s killed, and 1 paralysed by a snipers bullet while searching for this piece of shit????

  17. Dave

    March 29, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    The point is 1) The government lied to us about who he was, in a trumped up pomp-and-circumstance rose garden ceremony. 2) They are drying to drain the Gitmo swamp as fast as they can, for purely POLITICAL reasons, not for reasons of national security. 3) They released some of the worst prisoners, the ones the United Nations wanted for war crimes. The end result of all this is the realization that our President does not give a sh*t about the safety of our country, about being honest with the people, or about anything except the pure politics of everything he does. He always has been a snake oil salesman, and he always will be, and he has just proven it yet again.

  18. Melody

    March 29, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    And…let us not forget…the President did not even come close to following protocol in this matter either. Congress was NOT conferred with as they should have been prior to the swap! This is indicative of a President doing something in such a way that would imply that he KNEW what he was doing was WRONG!

  19. Marine Grunt

    March 30, 2015 at 2:59 am

    So what would you say to the widows of the men who were killed looking for him? Or the wife of the poor guy who was seriously injured and has to live the rest of his life with a severe head injury? Men died for this piece of trash. Mentally ill or not – he gets due process and he gets to come home while some of the good men who went to save him came back in a coffin. Prison and due process are too good for him.

  20. Marge Hesse

    April 2, 2015 at 12:50 am

    I do not think anyone should pass judgment until all the facts are known. Too many people go on and on about something they know nothing about. Their energy can best be expended in becoming informed. I can only wonder how these comments will embarrass these same people when they are fully knowledgeable of the circumstances.

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