Is the Army whitewashing Bowe Bergdahl’s desertion?

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After a preliminary hearing, US Army officials are recommending Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl get off without jail time or a punitive discharge for walking off his Afghanistan military base in 2009. He could even get back pay and lifetime disability payments.

The recommendation leaked out Sunday, infuriating some of Bergdahl’s former platoon mates. Instead of examining Bergdahl’s crimes, the hearing whitewashed them.

Why would Army officials sweep Bergdahl’s alleged desertion under the rug? To make President Obama look good. Last year, Obama was criticized for swapping a “dream team” of five top Taliban warriors from Guantanamo for a deserter who had fallen into enemy hands. Reinventing Bergdahl as a hero makes that trade sound acceptable. Disgracefully, that’s what the Army is doing.

Defending the swap last year, National Security Adviser Susan Rice claimed Bergdahl had served with “honor and distinction.” The hearing was scripted to make that fairytale claim look true.

Bergdahl didn’t tell his story at the hearing. Instead, the defense called Maj.-Gen. Kenneth Dahl, who had been assigned to investigate Bergdahl’s disappearance and had interviewed him for a day and a half. Dahl spun an implausible tale that Bergdahl never intended to desert — just that he planned to leave the base for one night, run to a neighboring military base and tell an unnamed general there about mismanagement in his platoon.

Huh? The nearest base was nearly 20 miles away over rugged terrain. Running there in the dark night — physically impossible. It was a crazy alibi, but no one questioned it.

Dahl painted Bergdahl as an idealistic, patriotic, naïve man — saying he resembled John Galt in Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged.” Shockingly, no one presented evidence to dispute this phony portrait, though there is plenty: the e-mail Bergdahl sent his parents saying “the horror that is America is disgusting” or his comments to his platoon mates disparaging the US war effort.

The biggest ruse: the flat denial that any of Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers lost their lives looking for him. The issue came up twice.

Dahl was asked whether he investigated that question. Dahl responded that he hadn’t, because he was told not to. Yet moments later, he stated “there were no soldiers killed who were deliberately looking and searching for . . . Sgt. Bergdahl. I did not find any evidence of that.” Of course he didn’t. He was ordered not to look.

Bergdahl’s three commanders all testified that as soon as he went missing, a massive search was launched.

Thousands of infantry were pushed to their limits, spending 45 days in sweltering 100-degree-plus days and cold nights, combing remote areas and driving though villages, down roads and into terrain they had not entered previously. Maj. S. Silvino testified that IED blasts doubled, and his soldiers faced a higher risk because they were searching unfamiliar territory and were weakened by fatigue and lack of water.

It was compelling testimony, but the fix was already in. The hearing officer announced right afterward that military officials had already agreed to exclude it: “To the extent that Maj. Silvino and any other government witnesses testified that there were injuries suffered by US forces during the alleged search and recovery operations, I will not consider this as evidence.”

Some of his platoon mates have been all over television calling Bergdahl a deserter. They weren’t on the witness list. Gregory Leatherman, who served with Bergdahl and is no longer in the military, was brought in to testify that Bergdahl was mentally troubled.

But one of the Army’s top forensic psychologists, Christopher Lange (who was not called to testify) examined Bergdahl and reported that in 2009, Bergdahl “was able to appreciate the nature and quality and wrongfulness of his conduct.”

“Wrongfulness.” Not at this charade of a hearing. The defense called captivity expert Terrence Russell and set him up by asking about “public efforts to smear the reputations of soldiers who are captured.” He answered that Bergdahl is a hero for serving “his country with honor in captivity.”

Bergdahl’s lawyer closed by saying that Bergdahl “is deeply grateful to President Obama for saving his life.”

What about the lives of the men and women in uniform who serve bravely? This hearing dishonored them. Now it will be up to US Army Forces Commanding Gen. Robert Abrams to clean up this dishonorable mess.

Betsy McCaughey is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.


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