The State Department’s attempt to shut up the soldiers who served with Bowe Bergdahl at the time of his capture may end up backfiring on the White House, which has apparently decided to attack their integrity rather than explain their own spin on the issue. One soldier appeared on Fox and Friends this morning who took part in the post-desertion search for Bergdahl and said that the military instructed them to lie about the circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance (via Noah Rothman at Mediaite):
“The sentiment that everybody knew was that he walked off the base in the middle of the night, left all his gear there, and went – just walked off the post,” Fuller said. “So, we had all known that it was — that he had deserted his post, and there was never anything about him getting captured or POW until a little while later whenever it came down from the chain of command that we needed to keep quiet and not say anything.”
“We’re going with the narrative that he was captured,” Fuller said of the military’s position on Bergdahl’s alleged desertion.
“So, they basically told you not to tell the truth,” Fox host Brian Kilmeade said.
“Yes, sir,” Fuller replied.
Fuller concluded by corroborating the claims of Bergdahl’s former team leader, Sgt. Evan Buetow,who told CNN on Tuesday that the Taliban’s attacks became more directed after Bergdahl was captured.
“The ambushes we use, the certain tactics we use, the Taliban was picking up on those things,” Fuller said. “You could tell it was from somebody on the inside that had that info.”
There may have been some operational and security issues involved in attempting to keep the disappearance quiet at that point in time. For instance, they could have hoped to keep the value of Bergdahl to the local Taliban or the Haqqanis low enough to arrange for an inexpensive trade — perhaps even some cash. There is some indication that the low-value approach was initially successful, but was lost when the captors published the first captivity video of Bergdahl and the Haqqanis realized what they had. But that’s an argument for keeping the disappearance and capture entirely quiet, and not just cover it with a false narrative, especially among those who already knew what had happened.
Besides that, the other reason to keep the nature of the disappearance quiet could have been to keep from embarrassing the family back home and creating problems for an already-troubled young man had he been retrieved soon afterward. Given what’s transpired since, largely in reaction to the White House attempting to make Bergdahl into something he’s not, that may not have been an unreasonable consideration either. But the non-disclosures signed by the squad — a highly unusual step, apparently — should have covered those concerns too, without demanding that the men lie about what happened.
One can understand why so many of them are now speaking out, given this context, and why so many of them may get even more vocal as the White House pushes back against their first-person accounts. Speaking of which, Fuller reacted with disdain to the assertion made by State Department spokesperson Marie Harf, which was that Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers at the time were not credible voices on the matter:
QUESTION: Does the State Department consider Sergeant Bergdahl to be a deserter?
MS. HARF: The State Department – no, Lucas. Look, what we said is we are going to learn the facts about what happened here. We said very clearly in a statement from the Secretary on Saturday that Sergeant Bergdahl was a member of the United States military who volunteered to serve his country. We don’t know the facts about what happened yet on that day.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) according to those around him, his platoon mates, his squad mates, company mates, they said he walked off the base.
MS. HARF: Lucas, some of them – other – there are conflicting reports out there about this. Look —
QUESTION: Are there?
MS. HARF: There are. Go Google it on the web and you’ll find a ton of conflicting reports. The fact is we’re still establishing a fact pattern about what happened, how he ended up in Taliban captivity. So when he is able to share those, as Chairman Dempsey said today, he will. He also said, like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty. Our army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred. In the meantime, we will continue to care for him and his family.
So I think people need to be really careful about believing every second or third-hand report out there, and also what the President, what the Secretary, what Chairman Dempsey have said: Regardless of how he went missing, it is our responsibility to him to bring him home, period.
QUESTION: And when you say second- and third-hand reports, when his squad mates who served with him overseas said he walked off the —
MS. HARF: Lucas, I’m sure some of them – I mean, look, there’s a lot of rumor and telephone game that’s being played here about what happened. Not all —
QUESTION: So you’re saying that the guys on television last night – his squad mates, platoon mates – were not correct?
MS. HARF: I’m saying we don’t know the fact pattern yet here. We don’t. Nobody knows exactly what happened that night. As the facts emerge, as he’s able to discuss them with the Department of Defense, we will see where that takes us.
QUESTION: Going back to —
MS. HARF: That happened five years ago. This is a situation —
QUESTION: So you’ve had all this time, five years, to determine whether he was a deserter or not. That’s a long time.
MS. HARF: He’s been in captivity, Lucas. I think he’s probably the person who knows best what happened on that night.
QUESTION: But – well, I think that his squad mates have the best indication what happened that night.
MS. HARF: I don’t think that that’s the case.
No one in this administration has much room to evaluate credibility when it comes to this deal.