The Bergdahl Controversy and Why it Matters

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After ten months of indecision by the military high command, Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has finally been charged for allegedly deserting his post in Afghanistan and misbehavior before the enemy. Sgt. Bergdahl was a prisoner of the Taliban for five years after intentionally leaving his military post in Afghanistan without authorization in 2009. In May 2014, President Obama unilaterally bypassed Congress and exchanged Bergdahl for five top Taliban leaders then held in detention at GITMO. At the time, the Obama Administration proclaimed that there was simply no time to notify Congress in advance (required for all detainees released from GITMO) then cited two reasons for the swap: (1) We leave no one behind (President Obama); (2) Bergdahl “served his country with honor and distinction” (Susan Rice).

Now that Bergdahl has been charged many are questioning the initial White House narrative. Indeed, when pressed on the reason for the delay in charging Bergdahl and whether the White House knew at the time that Bergdahl was a suspected deserter while in a combat zone a State Department spokesperson related “what does it matter?”

It matters for several reasons. First, there are credible reports that several soldiers lost their lives in high risk search operations looking for Bergdahl. Second, the government has a responsibility to follow the law. The Obama Administration did not notify Congress of the release of the five top Taliban leaders in advance as required. Third, the American people expect transparency. While it is obvious that national security matters must sometimes be withheld, it is just as obvious that Bergdahl did not serve his country with honor and distinction. In fact, many suspect the swap was done in an attempt to get the Taliban to “negotiate” a peaceful settlement as US forces pull out of Afghanistan.

Finally, at the end of the day, it is not the military or America that left Bergdahl “behind.” Bowe Bergdahl left the military and his country behind when he took off his uniform, set aside his weapon, and walked out on his fellow soldiers during wartime. Misbehavior before the enemy strikes at the heart of the esprit de corps of our fighting forces. If convicted Bergdahl faces life in prison. He must be held accountable for his crimes.

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