Did the White House send Susan Rice out on another Sunday talk show fool’s errand? Just as with the Benghazi attack, Barack Obama’s national-security adviser went out on a Sunday to discuss a burgeoning controversy, and perhaps without a full set of the facts in front of her. When questioned by George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week, Rice tried to parry the question about Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s initial disappearance, which some of his fellow soldiers believed to be an act of desertion that cost more American lives. Rice insisted that Bergdahl had served with “honor and distinction,” a claim that will be tested in the coming days and weeks (via Daniel Halper):
“Certainly anybody who’s been held in those conditions, in captivity for five years, has paid an extraordinary price. But that is really not the point. The point is that he’s back,” Rice told ABC host George Stephanopoulos when asked whether Bergdahl was a deserter and whether he’d face punishment.
“He is going to be safely reunited with his family. He served the United States with honor and distinction. And we’ll have the opportunity eventually to learn what has transpired in the past years, but what’s most important now is his health and well being, that he have the opportunity to recover in peace and security and be reunited with his family. Which is why this is such a joyous day.”
Halper notes that Rice also claimed in this segment that “Sergeant Bergdahl wasn’t simply a hostage; he was an American prisoner of war captured on the battlefield.” That depends on a very broad definition of battlefield. Fellow soldiers from his unit claim Bergdahl deserted and was captured well away from any military action, and they’re far from joyous over the deal that freed him. One of them, Nathan Bradley Bethea, wrote a damning piece today for The Daily Beast expressing outrage over the swap of Bergdahl for five high-value Taliban targets:
The Daily Beast’s Christopher Dickey later wrote that “[w]hether Bergdahl…just walked away from his base or was lagging behind on a patrol at the time of his capture remains an open and fiercely debated question.” Not to me and the members of my unit. Make no mistake: Bergdahl did not “lag behind on a patrol,” as was cited in news reports at the time. There was no patrol that night. Bergdahl was relieved from guard duty, and instead of going to sleep, he fled the outpost on foot. He deserted. I’ve talked to members of Bergdahl’s platoon—including the last Americans to see him before his capture. I’ve reviewed the relevant documents. That’s what happened.
Our deployment was hectic and intense in the initial months, but no one could have predicted that a soldier would simply wander off. Looking back on those first 12 weeks, our slice of the war in the vicinity of Sharana resembles a perfectly still snow-globe—a diorama in miniature of all the dust-coated outposts, treeless brown mountains and adobe castles in Paktika province—and between June 25 and June 30, all the forces of nature conspired to turn it over and shake it. On June 25, we suffered our battalion’s first fatality, a platoon leader named First Lieutenant Brian Bradshaw. Five days later, Bergdahl walked away. …
On July 4, 2009, a human wave of insurgents attacked the joint U.S./Afghan outpost at Zerok. It was in east Paktika province, the domain of our sister infantry battalion (3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry). Two Americans died and many more received wounds. Hundreds of insurgents attacked and were only repelled by teams of Apache helicopters. Zerok was very close to the Pakistan border, which put it into the same category as outposts now infamous—places like COP Keating or Wanat, places where insurgents could mass on the Pakistani side and then try to overwhelm the outnumbered defenders.
One of my close friends was the company executive officer for the unit at Zerok. He is a mild-mannered and generous guy, not the kind of person prone to fits of pique or rage. But, in his opinion, the attack would not have happened had his company received its normal complement of intelligence aircraft: drones, planes, and the like. Instead, every intelligence aircraft available in theater had received new instructions: find Bergdahl. My friend blames Bergdahl for his soldiers’ deaths. I know that he is not alone, and that this was not the only instance of it. His soldiers’ names were Private First Class Aaron Fairbairn and Private First Class Justin Casillas.
Though the 2009 Afghan presidential election slowed the search for Bergdahl, it did not stop it. Our battalion suffered six fatalities in a three-week period. On August 18, an IED killed Private First Class Morris Walker and Staff Sergeant Clayton Bowen during a reconnaissance mission. On August 26, while conducting a search for a Taliban shadow sub-governor supposedly affiliated with Bergdahl’s captors, Staff Sergeant Kurt Curtiss was shot in the face and killed. On September 4, during a patrol to a village near the area in which Bergdahl vanished, an insurgent ambush killed Second Lieutenant Darryn Andrews and gravely wounded Private First Class Matthew Martinek, who died of his wounds a week later. On September 5, while conducting a foot movement toward a village also thought affiliated with Bergdahl’s captors, Staff Sergeant Michael Murphrey stepped on an improvised land mine. He died the next day.
It is important to name all these names. For the veterans of the units that lost these men, Bergdahl’s capture and the subsequent hunt for him will forever tie to their memories, and to a time in their lives that will define them as people. He has finally returned. Those men will never have the opportunity.
Bill Kristol wondered this morning whether Rice ended up holding the bag again for another false narrative from the Obama White House:
“Those are the people who fought, who fought in the same company in some cases, and who feel like they sacrificed to get this guy back who may have behaved at best irresponsibly and at worst worse. And we need to have honesty about that. There was a big Army investigation–what did Susan Rice know? What did President Obama know about the investigation about Bergdahl?
“It’s one thing to trade terrorists for a real POW, someone who was taken on the battlefield fighting honorably for our country. It’s another thing to trade away 5 high-ranking terrorists to someone who walked away.”
Kristol asks the right question, at least in terms of the politics of it. If the White House was this ignorant of the issue, then it calls the administration’s competence into question. If they did know it, then it calls something else into question, too.
Update (Allahpundit): To follow up on Ed’s point, Rice saying that Bergdahl was captured “on the battlefield” smells like a sly way of implying without clearly stating that he was captured during combat, as most POWs are. I think she and the White House are calculating, possibly correctly, that most voters will pay attention to this story for 48 hours after Bergdahl’s release and then tune out. To the extent they can use that window to create the impression that Bergdahl is a POW as that’s commonly understood, they’re going to do it.
Simple question: If he was captured “on the battlefield,” during which battle, specifically, was he taken?