It’s safe to say that the Bergdahl trade, brokered by the CIA, has been a PR disaster for the White House, and the media frenzy is in full swing with no end in sight.
Susan Rice’s statement about Bergdahl serving with honor and distinction triggered an outcry from many in his former unit who see his unauthorized absence, what is known in the military as being “UA”, as anything but honorable. And while their statements paint a picture of desertion, it remains unclear if Bergdahl violated Article 86 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and did in fact desert his unit.
What nobody is talking about, and what is factually correct, is that Bergdahl did go AWOL and is guilty of this under the UCMJ. He was not where he was supposed to be, period.
Unauthorized Absence (UA) or Absence Without Leave (AWOL)
Any member of the armed forces who, without authority:
(1) fails to go to his appointed place of duty at the time prescribed;
(2) goes from that place; or
(3) absents himself or remains absent from his unit, organization, or place of duty at which he is required to be at the time prescribed; shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.
In Navy speak, Bergdahl “missed muster” and was not where he should have been. The consequences of this action alone triggered a series of events that contributed to the deaths of soldiers in his unit and in other units who contributed to the search efforts. The daylight exchange also put all US forces involved at risk; Special Operations warriors prefer to operate at night with the advantage of thermal and infrared technology at their disposal.
“Boys are for pleasure, and women are for pleasure,” is a popular Pashtun saying. Judging from the way Bergdahl was presented in the Taliban propaganda video of the hand over, clean shaven and effeminate, according to Pashtun culture, it seems likely that this was potentially an additional insult intended for America. It also hints at how Bergdahl’s captors viewed and potentially treated him during five years of captivity.
It disturbingly reminds me of the hit TV series, Game of Thrones, and one of the main characters, “Theon Greyjoy”, who found himself captured, was brutally tortured and is now known by his pet name “Reek”, a name he willingly accepts. Bergdahl’s five years was likely more terrible then we could ever imagine, given the ruthless nature and sexual culture of the Taliban, and that’s the elephant in the room everyone wants to ignore.
I am glad this American is home, but his actions demand explanation and his UCMJ violation needs to be dealt with accordingly. Although, the White House wants this to end quickly, and I see quick action on the Army’s part with a likely dishonorable discharge in Bergdahl’s future.
One thing is certain, Bergdahl will have to live with his own personal demons that come from knowing that his actions contributed to the deaths of good people, and God knows what else, during his time spent with the Taliban. And this is far more punishment than any currently available to the Army under the UCMJ.