Does this further incriminate him on the desertion charge or does it cut the other way? Could be that he went outside the wire the first time as a “dry run” for desertion, to see if he could make it that far without being caught. It could also be that the guy was simply a kook, a “free-spirited young man,” as the Times puts it, who was so eager to find a plum spot from which to watch the sun rise that he’d, er, wander off into the Afghanistan countryside. That’s not the same as my “mental break” theory, but it’s not far from it.
Deserter or doofus? They’re not mutually exclusive, you know.
The report cites accounts from his unit mates that in their predeployment exercise at the Army’s National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., he sneaked or crawled off a designated course or range either to see how far he could go or to see a sunrise or sunset…
The report is also said to cite members of his platoon as saying that he may have taken a shorter unauthorized walk outside the concertina wire of his combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan before he left for good, in an incident that was apparently not reported up the chain of command. The Military Times on Wednesday first reported that claim, also citing officials familiar with the military’s report…
[The report] is said to confirm certain other details relayed in recent accounts, including that Sergeant Bergdahl shipped his computer and a journal home before he disappeared. It also confirms that he left behind his body armor and weapon – an unwieldy SAW machine gun – taking with him water, knives and a compass…
While much of the report is said to focus on disciplinary problems within his unit and a lack of accountability within its chain of command, the report is also said to portray Sergeant Bergdahl as a free-spirited young man who read martial-arts books, drank tea with Afghan soldiers from whom he tried to pick up Pashto phrases, and maintained a collection of throwing stars and knives, which it documents in detail.
There’s no better place for a “free spirit” to follow his bliss than Taliban country in the middle of a war. The report concludes that Bergdahl did indeed leave the base voluntarily; what it doesn’t say definitively is that he left with the intent to never return, notwithstanding the details about him shipping his belongings home and leaving his weapon and body armor behind. But if he didn’t leave to join the Taliban, what other reason might he have had? Jake Tapper dug around for possibilities and came up with this:
But assuming the account of Buetow and Gerleve is accurate [that radio intercepts indicated an American was looking to talk to the Taliban], one former government official involved in the case cautions that Bergdahl, who was a private at the time, seeking the Taliban does not necessarily mean nefarious intent.
“This is just one of a range of potential explanations,” the official said. “But that report tracks with other indicators of a sort of messianic mission on his part to stop the violence and perhaps help broker an understanding with the local Taliban. If this was his motive, it throws things into a bit different light.”
Buetow said, “That could be a possibility,” noting that “he was upset with the way we were handling the war effort while in Afghanistan. He just never gave me specifics on what it was he was frustrated with.
That’s the kook theory in a nutshell. Bergdahl may well have been disgusted with the U.S. and its mission and left to seek out the Taliban — not to “actively collaborate” with them, though, but to fulfill some odd fantasy that he was going to negotiate the end of the war. Remember, there are reports that he tried to escape from the Taliban at least twice. None of that would absolve him from the charge of desertion but it would challenge the suspicion, raised by former squad mates Evan Buetow and Justin Gerleve, that he was helping the Taliban improve the precision of their attacks on U.S. convoys.
One other curious note about the classified military report. The NYT points out that it makes no mention of the alleged radio intercepts that Buetow and Gerleve swear they heard about an American soldier looking to talk to the Taliban. There is a reference in the Army’s war logs to intercepts about an unnamed U.S. soldier looking to talk to someone who speaks English — not to the Taliban specifically — but oddly none of that made it into the report, despite eyewitness accounts to it from men in Bergdahl’s unit. You know what else didn’t make it into the report? The mysterious note that Bergdahl may or may not have left in his tent before going outside the wire. The NYT went back to its source on that and asked him where he got his information. Answer: “[H]e remembered reading a field report discussing the existence of such a letter in the early days of the search and was unable to explain why it is not mentioned in the final investigative report.” Fox News has also heard independently from its sources that there was a damning letter — and yet, somehow, despite it being the single strongest indicator about Bergdahl’s motives, there’s no reference to it in a classified report devoted to investigating Bergdahl’s motives. Either the report whitewashed key evidence about the case or someone on the ground invented the note and stuck it in a field report, where news of it began to circulate. Hmmmmmmmm.
Update: If it turns out Bergdahl did walk away in half-assed hopes of brokering a peace deal, would that spare him a desertion charge? Probably not:
— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) June 5, 2014