Bowe Bergdahl: Traitor or Hero?

  • Rob Kerby Contributor
  • Updated Jun 06, 2014
Bowe Bergdahl: Traitor or Hero?

Could a nice Presbyterian boy from Idaho – a U.S. Army soldier rejected by the French Foreign Legion – turn into a discontented deserter, a Muslim convert and a Taliban collaborator?

“There is strong eyewitness evidence that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl deserted his unit and that the search for him endangered his fellow soldiers,” writes nationally syndicated political observer Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post. “If he had served with honor and distinction, there would be no national uproar over his ransom.” 

And, asks Krauthammer, what is going on with Obama advisor “Susan Rice and the Sunday morning talk shows? This time she said Bergdahl had served in Afghanistan ‘with honor and distinction’ – the biggest whopper since she insisted the Benghazi attack was caused by a video.”

“Both President Obama and Ms. Rice seem to think that the crime of desertion in wartime is kind of like skipping class,” writes military analyst and retired officer Ralph Peters for National Review. “They have no idea of how great a sin desertion in the face of the enemy is to those in our military. The only worse sin is to side actively with the enemy and kill your brothers in arms. This is not sleeping in on Monday morning and ducking Gender Studies 101.

“This is a fundamental culture clash. Team Obama and its base cannot comprehend the values still cherished by those young Americans ‘so dumb’ they joined the Army instead of going to prep school and then to Harvard. Values such as duty, honor, country, physical courage, and loyalty to your brothers and sisters in arms have no place in Obama World.”

In trading top Taliban commanders for Bergdahl, writes Peters, President Obama “never stopped to consider that our troops and their families might have been offended by their commander-in-chief staging a love-fest at the White House to celebrate trading five top terrorists for one deserter and featuring not the families of those soldiers (at least six of them) who died in the efforts to find and free Bergdahl.”

Could Obama have not known what he was getting into? In June 2012, a Rolling Stone magazine contributing editor, the late Michael Hastings, did an in-depth article about Bergdahl.

“Bowe Robert Bergdahl was born in Sun Valley, Idaho, on March 28th, 1986 – the same day as Lady Gaga, as his parents like to point out,” wrote Hastings. “His father worked construction, his mother odd jobs, living the life of ski bums, nearly off the grid. In 1983, the year Bowe's older sister Sky was born, his parents pulled in $7,000 and paid off the hospital bills for her birth with weekly $20 deposits.

“Rather than put their kids in the local school system, Jani and Bob home-schooled Bowe and his sister. Devout Calvinists, they taught the children for six hours a day.

“By the time he was 16, Bowe had grown restless with his home-schooling – and his parents. He began to explore the wider world, and became obsessed with learning how to fence. At a nearby fencing studio, which also offered ballet classes, he was recruited by a beautiful local girl to be a ‘lifter’ – the guy who holds the girl aloft in a ballet sequence. He soon moved in with the girl, whose family owned a tea shop in Ketchum, and made it his second home. The matriarch of the household, Kim Harrison, introduced him to Buddhism and Tarot cards.

At 20, Bowe “decided to join the French Foreign Legion,” wrote Hastings. “He traveled to Paris and started to learn French, but his application was rejected. "He was absolutely devastated when the French Foreign Legion didn't take him."

He drifted for the next few years. In 2008, he spoke to a family friend about going to Africa to teach "self-defense techniques" to villagers being targeted by brutal militias. He fantasized about the creation of a special operations unit that would utilize “some military people dressed up like U.N. people," wrote Hastings.

Instead, he joined the U.S. Army. “At first, according to soldiers in his unit, Bowe seemed to embrace Army life. ‘He showed up, looked like a normal Joe,’ says former Specialist Jason Fry, who is now studying for a master's in theology. ‘When he first got to the unit, he was the leadership's pet. He read the Ranger Handbook like no other. Some people resented him for it.’ Bowe kept to himself, doing physical training on his own. 

"He never hung out with anyone, always in the background, never wanted to be in front of anything," said Fry. He surrounded himself with piles of books, including instructions on Zen meditation.

But as his tour of duty in Afghanistan grew long, is letters home took on a dark tone, particularly after a friend and fellow soldier was killed in combat. “I am ashamed to be an American,” he wrote home. “And the title of U.S. soldier is just the lie of fools." 

"I am sorry for everything here," Bowe wrote to his parents, according to Hastings. "These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live." 

He then described an Afghan child run over by an Army vehicle. "We don't even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in 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."

Bowe concluded what would be his final e-mail home with: "I am sorry for everything. The horror that is America is disgusting." Then he signed off telling his mother and father that “there are a few more boxes coming to you guys." Indeed, he had packed up all his personal effects and shipped them home. "Feel free to open them, and use them."

“In the early-morning hours of June 30th,” wrote Hastings, quoting Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers, “Bowe approached his team leader not long after he got off guard duty and asked his superior a simple question: If I were to leave the base, would it cause problems if I took my sensitive equipment?

“Yes, his team leader responded – if you took your rifle and night-vision goggles, that would cause problems.”

 Bowe returned to his barracks, gathered up water, a knife, his digital camera and his diary. Then he slipped off the outpost.

Where has he been in the five years since? What did he do while in Taliban custody? What about the reports that he defected, converted to Islam and trained insurgents in bomb-making – and how to evade U.S. forces? Many questions are being raised. 

“President Barack Obama was repeatedly advised by several of the nation's top military and intelligence officials not to engage in the prisoner swap,” writes Melanie Batley for NewsMax.

When the White House first began considering an exchange in 2011 and 2012, James Clapper, then director of National Intelligence, flat out rejected the release of the five detainees, according to the Daily Beast. Leon Panetta, former defense secretary and CIA director, has confirmed he was opposed to a possible Bergdahl prisoner swap during his tenure and questioned the deal Obama reached. 

Clapper told the Beast, the risk was too high that the Taliban leaders would return to the battlefield. Intelligence and defense officials told the Beast that the deal that was arranged was hastily done, and in a manner that suggested it was designed to squelch dissent and impose the will of the White House.

"This was an example of forcing consensus," one military official told the Beast. "The White House knew the answer they wanted, and they ended up getting it."

Obama's behavior is reminiscent of former President Richard Nixon's attitude toward governing: "When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal," writes George Will in the Washington Post.

Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has been vocal in her criticism of the deal and the White House's failure to inform Congress. She told the Beast that lawmakers also signaled opposition to a deal when it was discussed a few years ago.

Will’s assessment of the political situation is grim: "This episode will be examined by congressional committees, if they can pierce the administration's coming cover-up, which has been foreshadowed by the response to congressional attempts to scrutinize the politicization of the Internal Revenue Service. If the military stalls on turning over files to Congress pertaining to the five years of Bergdahl's absence, we will at least know that there is no national institution remaining to be corrupted."

Politico noted that the decision by the White House to pursue the deal "sends a clear message: As liberals and some conservatives have long argued, Obama is now willing to wield his executive powers" to get whatever he wants.

Publication date: June 6, 2014