In the space of nine months, he went from being heralded at the White House to facing prison for life.But will Obama admit his mistake here? Of course not:
On Wednesday, the U.S. military charged Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the former Taliban captive who was freed in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees, with desertion and misbehaving before the enemy.
His capture, release and now charge became a parable of how narratives about the war in Afghanistan did not pan out. The soldier whose service Susan Rice, U.S. national security adviser, once characterized as “honorable” and whose release came at the price of five prisoners could now himself end up in an American prison for life. The prison exchange that some political operatives thought would be heralded was instead widely condemned. And the war that was supposed to be ending with no soldier left behind has now been extended for five months.
Bergdahl’s case will now go before an Article 32 hearing, the equivalent of a grand jury in civilian court, to determine how the case should proceed. While many soldiers in the U.S. military’s history have served long sentences for such crimes, many are highly dubious he will serve a life sentence. There is a sense that there is no interest in handing out a long sentence to a soldier who may not have passed muster had the nation not been so desperate for troops when he joined in 2007—the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That said, there are many in the military who remain tremendously angry at Bergdahl. They believe he was a deserter and that the five-year search for him endangered other troops.
Army Colonel Daniel King announced at a nationally televised press conference out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, that Bergdahl was charged with one count of desertion and one count of misbehavior before the enemy—“endangering the safety of a command, unit, or place.” The former carries a maximum five-year penalty, the reduction of rank down to private, the forfeiture of all military compensation, and a dishonorable discharge. The latter could result in the same punishment—plus a life-in-prison sentence.
Bergdahl, who turns 29 years-old Saturday, disappeared in June 2009 from Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan while serving as a private from the 25th Infantry Division. The U.S. military devoted an enormous amount of resources in the search for him, particularly after videos appeared showing in in custody. In addition, his family and their hometown of Hailey, Idaho, fought to keep attention on Bergdahl’s case. In May 2014, Bergdahl was released in exchange for five Taliban members held at Guantanamo Bay who were subsequently transferred to Qatari custody for a year.
President Obama made the announcement of Bergdahl’s release in a Rose Garden ceremony flanked by Bergdahl’s parents, even as the circumstances of his disappearance were shrouded in uncertainty and charges that he abandoned his post and troops. Politically, the administration celebrated negotiating his release after years of failed bids by both the current and former administration, at least one attempted escape by Bergdahl and countless patrols searching for him. Photos released by the White House showed the president walking arm-in-arm with Bergdahl’s parents. Many called the timing key as many hoped the U.S. was winding down its war in Afghanistan.
But the political benefits and the timing of the war both proved incorrect. The president faced immediate backlash for heralding a soldier suspected of abandoning his post. That was only further fueled when, in a June 2014 interview with CNN, Rice said Bergdahl served with “honor and distinction.”
The incoming White House communications director defended the decision to trade Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban leaders last year, even as newly announced desertion charges for Bergdahl renewed Republican criticism of the prisoner swap.Meanwhile, the five Taliban commanders released in exchange for Bergdahl have been living in luxury in Qatar and even trying to make connections with the Taliban again.
"Was it worth it? Absolutely," Jen Psaki told Megyn Kelly on Fox News' "The Kelly File." "We have a commitment to our men and women serving in the military, defending our national security every day, that we're going to do everything to bring them home if we can, and that's what we did in this case."
Psaki's comments were the first from a top administration official since the charges were announced earlier Wednesday.
Not one brain among them. Patterico is demanding an apology from the White House for smearing Bergdahl's accusers as liars and psychopaths. Right. Like that's going to happen.
Obama secured Bergdahl’s release in exchange for five of the worst Taliban officials detained at Guantanamo. At least some of them will resume their sinister activities shortly if they have not done so already. Coming as they do in the context of the final stages of the deal in process with Iran, the charges cast a wider illumination.Tom Bevan:
Congress was cut out of the deal; Obama declined to provide Congress the legally required notification to which it was entitled in connection with the release of the detainees.
As a “deal,” the exchange was pathetic. We gave up five former Taliban commanders and officials for a deserter whose desertion aided the enemy. The trade served as a pretext for otherwise indefensible actions in furtherance of Obama’s misguided mission to close Gitmo.
The war was supposedly over, except it’s not, and we were obligated to do anything necessary to bring Bergdahl home, even if he deserted, except we weren’t. Is there any precedent vindicating the supposed principle cited for the Bergdahl deal? Neither Obama nor Rice cited one. It remains a bad deal wrapped in deceitful rhetoric and a complete humiliation of the United States
Recalling Obama’s and Rice’s praise of the deal, we see that they are willing to say anything in defense of a bad cause. We already knew that, but there is much more to come.
Far from serving with honor and distinction, Bergdahl was charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The charges carry a maximum sentence of life in military prison.Leon Wolf:
Perhaps that’s what’s really going on here: The military brass wants to correct the record, at least the one created by Obama and Susan Rice. If that’s what is going on, the Army’s legal system will sort out the excesses, if there were any. But more is at stake than political reputations.
In the ensuing 10 months since their release, we’ve learned that at least one of the five prisoners remanded to Qatar from Guantanamo Bay as part of the original swap has been caught making phone calls to the Taliban.
Qatar’s “strict monitoring” of the Taliban 5—if it ever really existed—is set to expire this spring, effectively allowing them to roam free. Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the House Armed Services Committee earlier this year that there is “very little” his agency can do to prevent them from returning to the battlefield and trying to kill American soldiers.
So, far from the fairy tale of a hero’s homecoming that President Obama tried to spin for the American people that Saturday morning 10 months ago, this story doesn’t have a happy ending for America. In his effort to empty the Gitmo detainee facility, the president traded five hard-core terrorists for a man who now stands officially accused of abandoning his fellow soldiers. He very may well be court-martialed and spend a good deal of his life behind bars. It’s the Taliban 5 who, beginning in just a few short weeks, get to live happily ever after.
Psaki refuses to answer two critical questions that Kelly repeatedly posed to her – 1) did Obama know at the time of the swap that substantial questions existed about whether Bergdahl was a deserter, and 2) what alternate methods were considered to get Bergdahl back other than trading away five high value prisoners?Not one brain among them.
These questions go to the very heart of this particular controversy in terms of evaluating whether what the Obama administration did was wise or displayed good judgment – especially important questions given that the Bergdahl swap was unquestionably illegal. The facial bluster the Obama administration resorts to is that, as an American soldier, Bergdahl was entitled to have the United States do literally anything to get him back. However, when pressed on the point, even the perpetually clueless Psaki realizes that the American public has a concrete belief that Audie Murphy would have been entitled to a more strenuous effort at recover than, well.. than Bowe Bergdahl.
And second, it isn’t true that the government would have done literally anything to get Bergdahl back. Presumably, if his captors had demanded a nuclear weapon for his release, even the Obama administration would have demurred. So it follows that at some point, a cost-benefit analysis has to be engaged in during the course of these swaps that must of course include the possibility or probability that what we are trading away might ultimately be used against us in war in the future.
These are the sorts of factors any reasonable person would want to evaluate when determining the exact level of stupidity that infested the Obama administration’s decision-making process with respect to Bowe Bergdahl. And moreover, it is the kind of information to which Congress was legally entitled before the swap took place so that they could have conferred with the Administration to ensure that they knew about the concerns that Bergdahl was a deserter and evaluated whether the price given up for Bergdahl was too high.
The fact that the Obama administration continues to stonewall on these points, in addition to their illegal refusal to consult with Congress before the swap, lends credence to the theory set forth by Kelly which the Administration pretends to pooh pooh – that the Administration actually wanted these particular detainees set free, and viewed their release as a feature, not a bug. Because they have been essentially prevented from shutting down Gitmo by Congress, they saw an opportunity to release some of its prisoners and took it, using the trade for Bergdahl as a pretext.
It sounds insane, but no more insane than the actual terms of the Bergdahl swap itself.