This ran in Thursday’s Lewiston Tribune.
Call Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl what you like.
Say the Idaho native who walked away from his Afghanistan post is a fool.
Or he could be a psychologically troubled young man who had no business being in a combat zone.
Certainly, Bergdahl has become a political football.
What he is not, however, is a traitor.
Bergdahl did not take up arms against his fellow soldiers.
He did not plot against his country.
Nor did he sell information to the enemy.
So whatever punishment awaits him, there should be some room for perspective, even mercy.
Shortly after leaving his post in 2009, Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban—who chained him to his bed, locked him in a cage, beat him, held him in darkness and left him malnourished.
At the time, Idaho’s congressional delegation kept the pressure on the Obama administration to secure Bergdahl’s freedom.
Five years later, the White House negotiated his release. But the price paid to get Bergdahl back—turning five Taliban detainees held at Guantanamo Bay loose—enraged Congress.
Bergdahl also stood accused of getting his fellow soldiers injured while they were looking for him.
An Army investigation conducted by Lt. Gen. Kenneth Dahl concluded Bergdahl may have been delusional in believing his departure would focus the military leadership’s attention on his grievances. “Unrealistically idealistic” but “truthful” is how Dahl characterized Bergdahl in a report that recommended no additional prison time.
Dahl also found no evidence to show any American military members were killed looking for him.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported in 2014 that Bergdahl was turned out of the U.S. Coast Guard in 2006—after 26 days of basic training -because the service found him psychologically unfit for duty.
Two years later, Bergdahl received a waiver that allowed Army recruiters to disregard otherwise disqualifying issues such as a criminal record or a health problem.
But Gen. Robert B. Abrams called for a full court-martial.
The military accused Bergdahl of desertion, which means he would never have returned to his post had the Taliban not caught up with him. Conviction carries a potential five-year penalty. Next came the filing of misbehavior before the enemy, a charge brought in only a handful of cases. For that, Bergdahl could spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Leave it to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump to fan the flames last year by calling Bergdahl a “no-good traitor, who should have been executed. ... Thirty years ago, he would have been shot.”
After a string of adverse rulings—including one that allowed troops who were wounded while looking for him to testify at a sentencing hearing—Bergdahl last week signaled his intention to enter a guilty plea to both charges.
His sentencing is set for Oct. 23.
Set aside the rhetoric and the politics for a moment.
What’s a just result?
Bust Bergdahl back to private.
Make him forfeit the back pay he’s collected.
Remove him from the military with a less-than-honorable discharge.
Give him credit for the time served as a captive.
Beyond that, however, what purpose would it serve to condemn Bergdahl to prison?
He has suffered enough for his mistakes. Bergdahl will carry the scars of his confinement and the shame of his misbehavior for the rest of his life.
After eight years, isn’t it time to move on?