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My Turn: Opinions on Bergdahl too often stated as fact

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Bergdahl family and released by the Idaho National Guard shows then Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl, 23, of Ketchum, Idaho. Afghanistan's Taliban says it has suspended "mediation" with the United States to exchange captive U.S. soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five senior Taliban prisoners held in U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay. Bergdahl's reception if he is released could vary from hero, a deserter, or just a young man from Idaho whose life took a U-turn in the mountains of Afghanistan. (AP Photo/The Bergdahl Family via Idaho Nayional Guard, File)

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Bergdahl family and released by the Idaho National Guard shows then Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl, 23, of Ketchum, Idaho. Afghanistan's Taliban says it has suspended "mediation" with the United States to exchange captive U.S. soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five senior Taliban prisoners held in U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay. Bergdahl's reception if he is released could vary from hero, a deserter, or just a young man from Idaho whose life took a U-turn in the mountains of Afghanistan. (AP Photo/The Bergdahl Family via Idaho Nayional Guard, File)

I have been shocked at the amount of hatred unleashed against Bowe Bergdahl and his parents. I was driving to work after the prisoner swap, listening to Boston sports talk radio, and one of the early-morning hosts stated Bergdahl was a worthless traitor as if that was an uncontroverted fact. There has been an avalanche of sentiment of that type.

You would not have thought Bergdahl was a POW for five years. Now we are finding out he was tortured after he tried to escape captivity. The New York Times reported that he was locked in a metal cage in total darkness for weeks at a time.

Critics of Bergdahl have called him a deserter, mentally ill, anti-American, a jihadist and a warrior for Islam. One Fox News commentator said the Taliban could have saved the United States money on legal bills if they had executed him. Bergdahl’s parents have also received death threats.

How commentators know so much about the circumstances of Bergdahl’s separation from his unit and his capture remains a mystery. Just like how other commentators know that the five released Taliban prisoners are “the worst of the worst.”

Speculation becomes rampant when political agendas try to shape perception. Before the prisoner swap, the best information we had about Bergdahl was the 2012 story written by Michael Hastings that appeared in Rolling Stone.

Hastings’s article described a person very different from any stereotype. Bergdahl grew up near Hailey, Idaho, deep in the mountains of Wood River Valley. His parents home-schooled him. He was a free-spirited kid who loved dirt bikes and boys’ adventure stories. His parents are devout Calvinists very concerned about ethical issues.

As a teenager, Bergdahl developed a passion for fencing. He also took up ballet, where he met a girlfriend. He dreamed of joining the French Foreign Legion. He actually traveled to Paris and started to learn French, but his application to join the French Foreign Legion was rejected.

Bergdahl remained interested in a military career. He enlisted in the Army. He was a reader. Hastings wrote that Bergdahl surrounded himself with piles of books including Three Cups of Tea, about a humanitarian crusade to educate girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Hastings said that unlike others in his training unit, Bergdahl was more likely to hang out in Barnes and Noble than a strip club.

Hastings goes on to say that after getting to Afghanistan, Bergdahl became disgusted with the war and the general incompetence of his unit. He had sincerely wanted to help Afghans, but he did not see that going on. He gravitated away from his unit and he became more psychologically isolated. He had seen an Afghan child get run over by an armored vehicle.

Hastings speculated that the trauma of seeing an Afghan child run over had a big impact on Bergdahl. He quoted from an email Bergdahl had written: “We don’t even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down on the dirt streets with our armored trucks. . . . We make fun of them in front of their faces and laugh at them for not understanding we are insulting them.”

I would offer an alternative speculation for why Bergdahl walked away. He was disgusted by the war. Hastings wrote that Bergdahl did not see the American war effort as an attempt to win Afghan hearts and minds. Possibly he was just a sensitive, idealistic guy who was horrified by a senseless war.

I think much of the criticism of Bergdahl reflects misguided militarism and jingoism. In the 21st century, we should be far down the road from gung-ho soldiers with John Wayne fantasies who never doubt and who blindly follow orders. The 20th century provides many horrible examples of the “I was just following orders” variety.

There has been a too-cavalier acceptance of all of the wars the United States has engaged in since Vietnam. There have been so many. Maybe we should be questioning that – not focusing so much attention on what Bergdahl did or did not do.

Bergdahl’s situation made me flash on Dalton Trumbo’s novel Johnny Got His Gun and Ron Kovic’s book Born on the Fourth of July. Bergdahl is a different variant, but it is so premature to be drawing the type of hateful criticism we have seen. How many of these armchair generals criticizing Bergdahl and his parents ever enlisted or put themselves in the type of dangerous situation Bergdahl did?

If the military eventually decides Bergdahl violated any military law, he should face military justice. Still, he also deserves due process of law and the presumption of innocence. That is the American way – not unsupported slander.

(Jonathan P. Baird of Wilmot is an administrative law judge. His column reflects his own view and not that of his employer, the Social Security Administration.)

I agree in principle with the author of this article. Sgt Bergdahl was an American soldier being held captive by the enemy. Getting him back home safely is exactly what his country should do, and did do. Speculating on how/why he got captured is disrespectful to the soldier & to his family. If warranted, a General Court-Martial will sort out that matter. In any case, it is not the job of John Q Public. How many of you critics would argue against it if this was your son? Be honest, now.

I agree completely. Whenever someone is accused of a crime which garners media attention, they're put on trial by the Court of Public Opinion before they even face a trial by jury. These allegations of desertion from (primarily) the right-wing media are a clear violation of Bergdahl's Fifth Amendment (and UCMJ) right to due process.

Wrong. "primarily from right -wing media". The media is 99% left-wing, I guess that you are referring to Fox, which is, not right-wing but much more balanced. But it is not about right-wing or left-wing it is about the facts and the facts from his fellow soldiers, reports, his own writings and things he stated....he deserted. Anyone AWOL over 30 days is a deserter. He has a right to due process, no one is denying him that right. However, this is more about the way this whole deal was handled.

See, this is why it is hard to take anything you say seriously. Even Fox knows it is not "balanced" no matter what its' logo says. What did you expect Bergdahl to do after he was captured a few hours after he left? Tell the Taliban," you better let me go or I will be in trouble for being AWOL"?

Well if you believe several stories in the media, including the NY Times. He left a note stating he no longer believed in the war, wanted to find a new life, and even suggested he might renounce his citizenship. He left this note at his unit they state. So whatever terms you want to use, he pretty much made the decision to leave his unit. Will the truth ever come out? My guess is the truth will be hard to get at from this administration.

I wonder if the author is aware that Bergdahl enlisted in the Coast Guard prior to enlisting in the Army. He never even made it through Boot Camp before he was discharged. Not sure how, "...he was just a sensitive, idealistic guy who was horrified by a senseless war" fits in with that fact.

I read that also capthall. Also read he did not like the Boot Camp and told his friends he faked being mentally ill, so they would discharge him.

From a news story on CNN: According to firsthand accounts from soldiers in his platoon, Bergdahl, while on guard duty, shed his weapons and walked off the observation post with nothing more than a compass, a knife, water, a digital camera and a diary. Those of us who have served in the military know full well the potential punishment for abandoning a guard post and for desertion. We also know the moral significance of leaving our fellow soldiers in danger by leaving them unguarded. Then, of course, we have the fact that six of our soldiers died while looking for him. Somehow I don't think those six lives can be justified by calling him "sensitive" and "idealistic."

Well, said, I couldn't agree more. It is disgusting that so many of our political leaders are simply jumping on whatever bandwagon they can find as they attempt to promote their own careers.

NObama broke the law....AGAIN. Rescuing Bergdahl is not the issue. These hardened criminal Terrorists traded for the soldier have been advanced as trade material before and Congress said NO - NObama again illegally used his "pen and phone" - progressive liberal socialists democrats see no problem ...... that in itself ..... IS ...... the problem. American will survive 8 years of this emperor but how do we fix an electorate willing to elect such inexperienced people like Hillary & NObama

Just can't help yourself with the "NObama" stuff, can you? Obama is not the topic here. The disgusting know-it-all response by hateful and ignorant people IS the topic. Go get your daily fix somewhere else.

Artemisia if you want to make the point about hateful and disgusting people, I suggest you do not do what you are accusing them of. The RS article is a fluff piece. And the NY Times is a liberal rag. How do they know he was locked up in a cage? The issue with this release is not about the soldier. I know Progressives want to make it about the soldier to take the heat off the President in regards to the swap. They do that with every issue to avoid the issue when it reflects negatively on this President. I can see the left are getting hot under the collar as the screw ups seem to be piling up daily. Running out of excuses, so the name calling needs to be used more. Would you folks like a list of the names you called Bush, Palin and a host of other Reps?

You said it yourself...."I would offer an alternative speculation for why Bergdahl walked away.".....thats desertion. Yet, you complain if he's called that...makes no sense.

You need to look up the legal definition of desertion, and understand the difference between it and being away without leave.

what was his administrative status??? is his official classification the legal definition?

While we're looking up definitions . . . why don't you look up the definition of "duty status unknown." Oh yeah, that's right - you can't look it up because the "current administration"(notice I didn't say the NOBama administration so certain folks wouldn't get their panties in a bunch) made that term up out of whole cloth.

Hey HD "duty status unknown" is a term used by the military, so it hasn't been made up.

Actually FOF here are the definitions. UA (Unauthorized Absence for the Navy/Coast Guard or, AWOL Absent Without Leave for the Army/ Air Force), are military members NOT being at their appointed place of duty. Once this status goes past 30 days, then they get classified as deserter status.

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