Why You’re Wrong About the President and Bergdahl
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?
So 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed here are his alone, not the Army’s not the Culper Group’s, not The Rhino Den’s, just his.