Bergdahl: An Appropriate Sentence?

In June 2009, U.S. Army Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl deserted his post in Afghanistan and was captured by Taliban forces. He was held for five years where he was tortured, beaten, and held in a cage in darkness after he tried to escape.

In May of 2014, Bergdahl was released in exchange for five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. The exchange was approved by then President Barack Obama.

After an investigation, the US military charged Bergdahl with one count each of desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty, and misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit, or place.

Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

Last week Bergdahl received a dishonorable discharge from the US Army with no prison time. His rank will be reduced from sergeant to private, he will be required to pay a $1,000 fine from his salary for the next 10 months. The sentence will be reviewed by higher authorities.

I think the sentence is appropriate.

Many people were outraged at the sentence and that is fine. Some of the reasons they were outraged were false reasons – like that soldiers were killed looking for Bergdahl. It’s true that soldiers looked for Bergdahl and some were badly injured, but the only death was a military working dog.

Stars and Stripes reported:

Command Sgt. Maj. Ken Wolf had a message for the families of troops killed in Afghanistan after Bowe Bergdahl walked off his post. “Their sons did not die looking for Pfc. Bergdahl,” Wolf said on Thursday’s “Serial” podcast, the 11th and final episode of the season.

The podcast investigating the Bergdahl case from seemingly all conceivable angles over the past few months, debunked the persistent rumor that six soldiers from his battalion had been killed during the 45-day, all-out search for Bergdahl. They were all killed in August and September, after the exhausting search effectively had been called off and the mission had changed to secure upcoming Afghanistan elections, according to court testimony.

Command Sgt. Maj. Wolf was the senior enlisted person in Bergdahl’s command.

During his trial, Bergdahl apologized for the pain he caused those who searched for him.

When he was a candidate, Donald Trump condemned Bergdahl calling him a “traitor” and also saying he should be shot and/or thrown from a plane without a parachute. These comments may have actually helped Bergdahl, as the judge may not have wanted to give him too severe a sentence that made it look like he was siding with Trump.

After the sentence was announced, Trump tweeted, “The decision on Sergeant Bergdahl is a complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military.”

Trump should have kept his mouth shut.

As for no prison time, I’m fine with that. Bergdahl was held captive for five years where he was beaten and tortured. He had diarrhea most of the time and used his own urine to clean and wash. He suffers from mental illness (schizotypal personality disorder) and probably should have never been allowed in the military.

With a dishonorable discharge, it may be hard for Bergdahl to get the medical and mental health care he needs. Probably some people, like President Trump, think this is fine. It’s not. Part of the reason he left his post in the first place was because of mental illness. He needs to get proper treatment for it. He needs access to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Bergdahl took a chance having a military judge and not a jury rule on his case. He took a chance that he might get life in prison by pleading guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. It turned out pretty good for him.

For the remainder of his life, Bergdahl will have to live with his decision to desert. He will have to live with the fact that fellow soldiers were injured while searching for him. He’ll have to live with the embarrassment of his dishonorable discharge.

Many folks may not like the outcome and that is fine. They should accept it.