Sure would be nice to have some actual text from the note to judge. Saying that he “suggested” he might renounce his citizenship could mean anything from “I’ve booked an appointment at the embassy” to something as vague as “I’m sick of America,” depending upon how charitable you want to be about his intentions.
Also, while damning evidence of his intent to desert, I’m not sure this would fundamentally change the legal case against him even if it’s true.
Sources who had debriefed two former members of Bergdahl’s unit told Fox News Bergdahl left behind a note the night he left base in which he expressed disillusionment with the Army and being an American and suggested that he wanted to renounce his American citizenship and go find the Taliban. U.S. military officials would not confirm the existence of the letter, but if it does exist, it would likely be part of the original file on the investigation into Bergdahl’s disappearance.
He wrote to his father more than once that he was ashamed to be an American but that’s not a renunciation. If it was, half the country would lose its citizenship on election night. In order to formally renounce, you need to follow these three steps; Bergdahl could conceivably have followed the last two, but if he didn’t appear before a diplomatic officer, his renunciation is ineffective. In fact, the Fox report quoted above doesn’t even assert that he did, in fact, renounce his citizenship. It says he wanted to, which is circumstantial evidence supporting the desertion theory but would mean that he was still an American citizen when he went missing. Maybe not a very good one, which makes the high price paid to get him back seem that much higher, but a citizen nonetheless.
What about the bombshell yesterday, though, about Bergdahl possibly having collaborated with the Taliban? Doesn’t expressing an intent to renounce his citizenship provide some support for that? I’m not sure. It’s possible to imagine him being disgusted with the U.S. and its war effort but not necessarily wanting to help the Taliban. The detail on renunciation could be useful supporting evidence of intent on a treason charge if you have other evidence that he joined the Taliban willingly and/or waged war against American troops. But even there, you hit a snag: A person can be charged with treason only if he owes allegiance to the United States. Arguing that Bergdahl owed that allegiance even though he meant to renounce it but was unable to simply because he couldn’t set up a meeting with a diplomatic officer first might be hard for a jury to digest.
Question for legal eagles: Is there any way under U.S. law to constructively renounce your citizenship in extraordinary circumstances, even if you haven’t complied with the three statutory steps? I’m guessing no, just because lawmakers would naturally want to make the bar for renunciation high. That’s the point of forcing people to appear before a diplomatic officer to do it — having an agent of the state there solemnizes the act so that the renouncer fully understands how grave his decision is. The law wants you to think, very hard, before you do something this drastic; following proper procedure proves that you have. I can imagine an argument in Bergdahl’s case, though, that nothing concentrates the mind about the solmenity of renunciation quite like doing it in the middle of a war zone, with jihadi savages ready to pounce one you’re outside the wire. If the goal of the statute is to ensure due deliberation and clear evidence of intent, it’s possible by virtue of his note that Bergdahl satisfied both of those conditions. Which is not, however, to say that I think a court would find that way. No one wants to start writing exceptions into the law governing renunciation to make it easier for people to do it.
Exit question: What are the odds that Bergdahl would be tried for treason even if they had a bunch of evidence showing that he assisted the Taliban? Given that doing so would amount to a catastrophic admission by Obama that he traded away five dangerous prisoners for a traitor, the odds are absolute zero. Not even a tiny bit higher.
Update: Deeper and deeper. Jake Tapper lands an interview with Evan Buetow, Bergdahl’s team leader the night he disappeared:
Within days of his disappearance, says Buetow, teams monitoring radio chatter and cell phone communications intercepted an alarming message: The American is in Yahya Khel (a village two miles away). He’s looking for someone who speaks English so he can talk to the Taliban.
“I heard it straight from the interpreter’s lips as he heard it over the radio,” said Buetow. “There’s a lot more to this story than a soldier walking away.”…
“The fact of the matter is, when those soldiers were killed, they would not have been where they were at if Bergdahl hadn’t left,” says Buetow. “Bergdahl leaving changed the mission.”