I want to add something to Byron York’s piece today noting the unusual lengths to which the military went to enforce silence about the desertion speculation within Bergdahl’s unit. We got an e-mail last night from someone claiming to have served with Bergdahl, who says he ended up spending two months searching for him. (That search, he emphasized, damaged the counterinsurgency strategy at the time because it forced troops to intrude in villagers’ homes and carry out disruptive nighttime raids at a moment when they were trying to win hearts and minds.) I can’t prove that he is who he says he is, but you don’t need to accept his credentials to see merit in his theory: Namely, the reason the military was so keen to keep the circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance quiet was because they feared the Taliban would kill him if word about his desertion got out. They were holding him, presumably, as a bargaining chip for prisoners held at Gitmo and/or cash; if the desertion theory was publicized, the Taliban might have concluded that there’s no way America would give up much to get Bergdahl back (wrong!), in which case they might as well behead him and get some propaganda value out of him instead. The military forced guys to sign nondisclosure agreements, in other words, to protect Bergdahl’s life, not to spare itself from embarrassment.
It’s one thing to enforce silence among the troops, though, and another to deceive Congress. What about the note that Bergdahl allegedly left, which not even members of the Senate Intelligence Committee heard about until this week? Surely wanting to tamp down public speculation about desertion doesn’t justify withholding evidence from key players in the legislature.
As it turns out, according to the White House, there is no note:
JUST IN – Saxby Chambliss says WH told senators in briefing that NYT reporting that Bergdahl left a note when he abandoned camp is wrong.
— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) June 4, 2014
That’s verrry curious, since it’s not just the NYT that has sources claiming the note exists. Fox News was also told that Bergdahl had left a letter, one that not only supported desertion but which hinted that he wanted to renounce his citizenship. Either multiple sources are lying to multiple news agencies about the existence of a note or the White House is lying to Chambliss and Congress in denying it. And if it’s the NYT/Fox sources are lying, why didn’t they lie more brazenly? They could have concocted the text of the phony note, making it as damning to Bergdahl as they like, and then fed it to one or both of them. They didn’t. Why not?
Since we’re theorizing here, and since lefty defenses of the prisoner swap thus far have been either deeply stupid or viciously nasty, let me try my hand at a better one: What if Bergdahl had some sort of mental break that led him to try to escape the base? I don’t mean combat stress or PTSD; lots of people have mental episodes caused by factors unrelated to that. The Afghan villagers who spotted Bergdahl making his way towards the mountains told WaPo that he seemed to be “in a haze” and assumed he might have been smoking something. Maybe he was having a mental crisis that had been building for awhile, replete with increasingly urgent e-mails to his father about chucking it all before he left. I’m not endorsing this theory; logically, it seems to me, there would have been other signs of mental distress noticed by members of his unit before Bergdahl went AWOL and there have been no reports of that. My point is, if you’re a liberal stuck between arguing “conservatives hate POWs!!1!” and “maybe the men accusing Bergdahl are psychopaths,” you’re probably better off trying out a “maybe he just snapped” theory instead.
In case you missed it last night, here’s James Rosen telling Hugh Hewitt about the rumors inside the intel community that Bergdahl might have collaborated with the Taliban. If that’s true, though, how long did he collaborate? According to the Daily Beast, he tried to escape from captivity twice.