U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl has been charged with desertion for leaving his unit in Afghanistan and joining up with the Taliban. It’s about time. After months of stonewalling as the evidence that Bergdahl was a deserter mounted ever higher, U.S. officials could ignore it no longer.
Much of that evidence has been known for years, and more of it came out last year, when Obama traded five seasoned, battle-hardened jihadis back to the Taliban in exchange for Bergdahl. Former infantry officer Nathan Bradley Bethea, who served with Bergdahl in Afghanistan, wrote in the Daily Beast that Bergdahl was “a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down.” Refuting reports that Bergdahl got separated from his unit while on patrol, Bethea declared: “Make no mistake: Bergdahl did not ‘lag behind on a patrol,’ as was cited in news reports at the time. There was no patrol that night. Bergdahl was relieved from guard duty, and instead of going to sleep, he fled the outpost on foot. He deserted. I’ve talked to members of Bergdahl’s platoon—including the last Americans to see him before his capture. I’ve reviewed the relevant documents. That’s what happened.”
Bethea’s account is in full accord with the Taliban’s 2010 claim that Bergdahl had converted to Islam and was teaching bomb-making to its jihadists. There is no reason to take anything that Taliban spokesmen say at face value, but secret documents revealed Thursday afternoon corroborate the claim. According to one of these documents, dated August 23, 2012, “conditions for Bergdahl have greatly relaxed since the time of the escape. Bergdahl has converted to Islam and now describes himself as a mujahid. Bergdahl enjoys a modicum of freedom, and engages in target practice with the local mujahedeen, firing AK47s. Bergdahl is even allowed to carry a loaded gun on occasion. Bergdahl plays soccer with his guards and bounds around the pitch like a mad man. He appears to be well and happy, and has a noticeable habit of laughing frequently and saying ‘Salaam’ repeatedly.”
The soldier’s father, Robert Bergdahl, also appears to be a convert to Islam, as during the ceremony with Obama in the Rose Garden announcing the exchange, a tweet he concluded with “ameen,” the Arabic form of “amen.”)
What’s more, an Associated Press report stated that “a Pentagon investigation concluded in 2010 that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl walked away from his unit, and after an initial flurry of searching the military decided not to exert extraordinary efforts to rescue him, according to a former senior defense official who was involved in the matter.” This official said that the evidence that Bergdahl had deserted was “incontrovertible.”
Fox News reported that Bergdahl -- “both in his final stretch of active duty in Afghanistan and then, too, during his time when he lived among the Taliban — has been thoroughly investigated by the U.S. intelligence community and is the subject of ‘a major classified file.’ In conveying as much, the Defense Department source confirmed to Fox News that many within the intelligence community harbor serious outstanding concerns not only that Bergdahl may have been a deserter but that he may have been an active collaborator with the enemy.”
Former Army Sgt. Evan Buetow, who served with Bergdahl and was present the night he disappeared, says flatly: “Bergdahl is a deserter, and he’s not a hero. He needs to answer for what he did.” Even worse, Buetow recounted that days after Bergdahl vanished from the U.S. base, there were reports that he was in a nearby village looking for someone who spoke English, so that he could establish communications with the Taliban. Soon afterward, Buetow recalled, “IEDs started going off directly under the trucks. They were getting perfect hits every time. Their ambushes were very calculated, very methodical.”
Bergdahl knew where the trucks would be going and when; said Buetow: “We were incredibly worried” that the Taliban’s “prisoner of war” was passing this information on to his captors in order to help them place their bombs most effectively.
Fox News also reported that according to “sources who had debriefed two former members of Bergdahl’s unit,” the deserter “left behind a note the night he left base in which he expressed disillusionment with the Army and being an American and suggested that he wanted to renounce his American citizenship and go find the Taliban.” According to Colonel David Hunt, Bergdahl even “called his unit the day after he deserted to tell his unit he deserted.”
Barack Obama must have known all or some of this, or should have known it, when he announced the exchange of five Guantanamo detainees for Bergdahl. But he gave no hint of knowing it when he declared that the swap was “a reminder of America’s unwavering commitment to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield.”
It was nonsense, and he must have known it. The desertion charge is a positive step, but there needs to be one more charge as well: treason.
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