Most of the pardon talk surrounding the White House of late centered on Hillary Clinton, but this one may turn out to be an even bigger turd in the proverbial punch bowl for Barack Obama. Accused deserter Bowe Bergdahl, who spent quite some time as a “guest” of the Taliban, would like the President to clear his record before leaving office. This comes as Bergdahl’s lawyers prepare for a court-martial hearing in April. (The Hill)
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held captive for five years and freed in an exchange for five Taliban prisoners, has asked President Obama to pardon him before leaving the White House.
A source told Fox News that Bergdahl wrote a letter to Obama thanking him for rescuing him in 2014 and trading him for the Guantanamo Bay detainees.
White House and Justice Department officials also told the New York Times that Bergdahl submitted several copies of a clemency application that were sent to the Pentagon, the Justice Department and the White House immediately after the election.
Time is of the essence here for Bergdahl because if he doesn’t get his walking papers before January 20th or so he’s likely to be up a creek without a paddle. Trump is on record as calling him a “dirty, rotten traitor” during more than one campaign stop. Sure, that’s the sort of easy red meat you toss out to the base to fire them up, but it’s part of a larger narrative. Trump is supposed to be the guy who is going to stick it to the terrorists and beef up the military. He’s the new sheriff in town and he won’t be coddling anyone who’s been sleeping with the enemy. Does this look like the sort of thing he can walk back now?
Obama has his own set of difficulties when it comes to this request. They only deal with his legacy of course, but he’s demonstrated that he’s pretty concerned about that. He can pretty much pardon whoever he likes over the next fifty days, but he’s got to be aware that this is all anyone will be talking about for some time to come if he does it.
The President already has that awkward Rose Garden video sitting out there, where he gave Bowe what amounted to a hero’s welcome at the White House along with his curiously behaving father. One might point to that as showing that Obama is already in Bergdahl’s corner, but he’s at least got some cover on that front. The display may have been over the top, but the POTUS can argue that all the facts weren’t in at the time and even if Bowe is a deserter we would want him back in the United States anyway. We punish our own over here according to the established rules. We don’t leave our guys in the hands of the terrorists to live in a dog cage.
But a pardon? That takes it to a new level. A move such as that effectively removes the question from the hands of the military and inserts Barack Obama’s personal decision in its place. If he does it he’ll no doubt make that argument that Bowe’s time living with the Taliban was punishment enough and write it off as the equivalent of offering him a commutation with time served. But we’re talking about desertion here. The penalty for that during a time of war is punishment, “by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct.” The wartime part is an important distinction because the same charge during peacetime carries a maximum penalty of, “dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay, and confinement of five years.”
I’m guessing that Obama would like to come off as the compassionate one here and shut this trial down before it gets started. And frankly, I don’t think the military would be all that upset about it either. Charging a guy who draws that many headlines as a deserter and locking him up will be a PR nightmare. Besides, the Obama team is great at the art of the spin if nothing else, so I’m guessing he’ll be leaning toward granting the request.