June 6 2014
While admittedly not as buff as the gregarious Gitmo Five seen in footage of their arrival in Qatar, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl looked pretty damned good, if a bit misty-eyed, possibly from sensitivity to the light, when he was handed over to U.S. Special Forces. A body language expert (yes, there are such people) interviewed by Lloyd Grove suggests, however, that Bergdahl is sad to leave.
Special Transparency Award: to the Taliban masterminds for releasing the very in-ter-rest-ting video purportedly of the handover of Sgt. Bergdahl, who has since been hidden from prying eyes by the Obama administration. Also hidden from public view--but for different reasons--is Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, a decorated Marine, who is languishing in a prison in Mexico, where he reportedly has been mistreated.
We may learn new facts about Bergdahl in the coming days. But right now it is looking bad for the president, who celebrated his release in a Rose Garden photo op with the Bergdahl parents. It looks like Sergeant Tahmooressi was the more deserving sergeant if the administration was going to work overtime on a rescue.
This other sergeant, who honorably completed two tours of duty in Afghanistan, says he accidentally took a wrong turn and ended up in Tijuana. Sergeant Tahmooressi's mother says he is sometimes disoriented because of a severe concussion he suffered when his vehicle in which he was riding was blown up in Afghanistan.
Mexican authorities took Tahmooressi into custody. In addition to the wrong turn, he had guns in his car. His guns are are legally registered in the U.S., but as you might expect in a notoriously law-abiding nation such as Mexico, gun laws are strict.
Under questioning, the State Department has said that Secretary of State John Kerry “raised the issue” of Sgt. Tahmooressi in routine diplomatic meetings on other matters with Mexican officials in Mexico City. No heavy lifting to obtain freedom for the honorably discharged sergeant.
Although Sgt. Bergdahl’s separation from active military duty appears, unless the story takes another unexpected turn, to be less honorable than the ignored sergeant’s, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, darling of the Sunday talk shows, took to the airwaves to explain that Bergdahl had served the United States with “honor and distinction.” That’s certainly a post-modern way to describe walking off from one's base and duties, leaving anti-American emails behind.
Bergdahl was portrayed as a deserter in an exhaustively-reported 2012 profile of the sergeant by the late Michael Hastings in Rolling Stone. Even the pro-Obama Washington Post had to report that villagers who saw Bergdahl shortly after he sneaked off his base believed he was seeking to meet up with the Taliban.
Desertion is a tragedy. It can happen because courage or conviction fails. It can happen because fighting in a war is bloody and brutal. As much as we all wonder what we would do in battle, desertion remains a serious offense. The Uniform Code of Military Justice makes that plain. “Any person found guilty of desertion or attempt to desert shall be punished, if the offense is committed in time of war, by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct, but if the desertion or attempt to desert occurs at any other time, by such punishment, other than death, as a court-martial may direct,” reads the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Many men have deserted in all America’s wars, but few have actually been executed. Only one deserter was executed during World War II, for example. If he had deserted at a different point in the War he might have been sent to prison instead. General Eisenhower probably didn’t want him to be executed. But, “It was not the moment for the supreme Allied commander, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, to be seen to condone desertion.” Charles Glass wrote in The Deserters, A Hidden History of World War II.
Does the Obama administration think that war has been abolished and the level of the seas have subsided, making it safe for civilization to desert and leave behind messages of disgust for our country? I hope it will turn out that Bergdahl wasn't a deserter, though that seems unlikely. Meanwhile, arguments can be made for rescuing him. Still, he may go down in history as the first first deserter to be lionized on the Sunday morning talk shows. That is the world in which we live now.
If, however, it turns out, as some of his former platoon members allege, that Bowe Bergdahl aided and abetted his country's enemy, then the parents of imprisoned John Walker Lindh—aka “the American Taliban”—can compare their son’s fate (which I think is just) to Bergdahl’s and put in a request for a Rose Garden ceremony. Whatever happens with Bergdahl, will the administration please get busy saving Sergeant Tahmooressi, a man of unquestioned loyalty to his country?