Bergdahl: I left my base in order to, uh, walk to another base and report wrongdoing


Bergdahl was planning to report what he believed to be problems with “order and discipline” in his unit, a senior Defense official tells CNN. A second official says Bergdahl had “concerns about leadership issues at his base.”…

Both officials declined to be identified because of the legal proceedings against Berghahl, but both have direct knowledge of the information outlined in the report. “This was a kid who had leadership concerns on his mind,” the second official said. “He wasn’t fed up, he wasn’t planning to desert.”…

Both officials said Bergdahl believed he could make it to the next base by relying on wilderness skills he learned growing up in rural Idaho, even though the area was full of insurgents. It was not immediately clear how far the nearest base was during that timeframe in July 2009.

Supposedly he thought he couldn’t trust his own commanders to address his “leadership concerns” and hoped that officers at the next base over, wherever that might be, would be more sympathetic to … a guy who had just gone AWOL in the dead of night. What’s the problem with that theory? Let’s ask one of the men who served with Bergdahl:

Right. According to the Army’s report on Bergdahl’s disappearance, written two months after he went missing, all he took with him were knives, a compass, and water. He left his armor and weapon behind. There’s no obvious reason why a soldier intent on making it to another base through hostile territory would leave himself defenseless. That’s the sort of thing you’d do if you were preparing to give yourself up to the enemy, not confront him if need be en route to making it back to your own lines. The “headed to another base” theory doesn’t jibe either with Michael Hastings’s account in 2012 of Bergdahl’s last few weeks before deserting. His last e-mail to his parents before disappearing did contain some grumbling about leadership in his unit (CNN reported on minor disciplinary problems last year), but it went much farther than that:

The e-mail went on to list a series of complaints: Three good sergeants, Bowe said, had been forced to move to another company, and “one of the biggest shit bags is being put in charge of the team.” His battalion commander was a “conceited old fool.” The military system itself was broken: “In the US army you are cut down for being honest… but if you are a conceited brown nosing shit bag you will be allowed to do what ever you want, and you will be handed your higher rank… The system is wrong. I am ashamed to be an american. And the title of US soldier is just the lie of fools.” The soldiers he actually admired were planning on leaving: “The US army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at. It is the army of liars, backstabbers, fools, and bullies. The few good SGTs are getting out as soon as they can, and they are telling us privates to do the same.”…

Bowe concluded his e-mail with what, in another context, might read as a suicide note. “I am sorry for everything,” he wrote. “The horror that is america is disgusting.” Then he signed off with a final message to his mother and father. “There are a few more boxes coming to you guys,” he said, referring to his uniform and books, which he had already packed up and shipped off. “Feel free to open them, and use them.”

A guy who thought America is “disgusting” and its army an “army of liars, backstabbers, fools, and bullies” rationally had no reason to believe he’d get a fairer shake from troops at another base. And he would have had no cause to send his possessions home if he was simply traveling from one outpost to another. Nothing here adds up. If Bergdahl’s desperate for an “innocent” explanation for his disappearance, he should have simply said that he suffered some sort of mental episode under stress. There’s evidence that he’d walked away from his base before; his father told Hastings that he thought Bergdahl’s mood had soured before he went missing after a soldier he knew was killed in combat. He’d been given a psychological discharge from the Coast Guard in 2006 as well. Why not say “I snapped and did something stupid” in lieu of this dopey “sneaking away to another base” theory? It says a lot about the credibility of the latter that the Army charged him with desertion anyway after hearing his story, knowing how invested the White House is in seeing Bergdahl cleared.

I assume he chose the defense he chose because it gives him more political traction than a simple insanity defense would. If he says “I snapped,” the retort will be that that’s no excuse to desert. Most soldiers cope with severe mental strain and many, I’m sure, have complaints about various officers up the chain of command, and only rarely do any of them decide to choose their own adventure outside the wire. Also, none of the men from his unit who’ve accused him of desertion have said anything about obvious signs of insanity from Bergdahl before he left. How would he prove that he snapped when there’d be a dozen witnesses claiming they saw no evidence of it at the time? Claiming instead that he was headed to another base to report wrongdoing makes it seem like the Pentagon’s coming after him now to punish him for trying to speak out, which may swing anti-war activists and civil libertarians over to his side. It won’t spare him from a sentence but maybe political pressure will keep that sentence lighter than it otherwise would have been. The Army’s not really going to send a misguided but well meaning “whistleblower” away to prison for life, are they?

Exit question from Aaron MacLean: Why are senior defense officials leaking Bergdahl’s self-serving story to CNN? Is there any explanation apart from them wanting to cover Obama’s ass by making the subject of his disastrous prisoner swap look as good as they can?

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