Today, Bowe Bergdahl’s defence lawyer announced that his client was being charged with desertion and worse.
The saga of former Taliban prisoner Bowe Bergdahl took a new turn Wednesday, with the Pentagon announcing at a press conference charges claiming the U.S. Army sergeant deserted his post intentionally before winding up in the extremists’ hands in Afghanistan.
Bergdahl’s attorney, Gene Fidell, told CBS News his client had been informed of the charges earlier Wednesday.
The two articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) that apply are Article 85 – Desertion – and Article 99, Misbehavior before the enemy. The last one is the heavy one:
Any member of the armed forces who before or in the presence of the enemy—
(1) runs away;
(2) shamefully abandons, surrenders, or delivers up any command, unit, place, or military property which it is his duty to defend;
(3) through disobedience, neglect, or intentional misconduct endangers the safety of any such command, unit, place, or military property;
(4) casts away his arms or ammunition;
(5) is guilty of cowardly conduct;
(6) quits his place of duty to plunder or pillage;
(7) causes false alarms in any command, unit, or place under control of the armed forces;
(8) willfully fails to do his utmost to encounter, engage, capture, or destroy any enemy troops, combatants, vessels, aircraft, or any other thing, which it is his duty so to encounter, engage, capture, or destroy; or
(9) does not afford all practicable relief and assistance to any troops, combatants, vessels, or aircraft of the armed forces belonging to the United States or their allies when engaged in battle; shall be punished by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct.
Both articles, in a time of war, are punishable by death, with article 99 in particular carrying a life sentence. However, it has been noted that prosecutors will not be seeking the death penalty.
They should. Forgetting the fact that servicemembers died to try to save him, and that we gave up five prisoners to get our one person back, there needs to be a penalty for this kind of cowardice.
One of the things I remember from my time as a junior enlistee was how not-seriously people in my rank took being in the military for the most part. Despite basic training, “A” schooling in many cases and being stationed on the equivalent of a flying city with combat jets and gigantic guns, many people I served with simply didn’t give a crap. One guy I used to serve with ran a barbershop inside the same space that housed machinery that was capable of transporting 130,000 pounds of airplane. Much of this is a consequence of just why people join the military – far more do it due to opportunism or a desire for perks such as college money versus a desire to actually help their country – but the reality is that many people don’t quite seem to fully grasp they’re in the military until shit goes down.
Executing Bowe Bergdahl would have the consequence of reminding anyone considering desertion that we are at war, and with that comes certain responsibilities. Simply put, it would be tactically advantageous to hang this man – a man who, again, caused five of our own prisoners to have to be released and six Americans to die in an unsuccessful rescue mission – for the crime of putting his brothers and sisters in harm’s way. In a crass way, killing Bergdahl – assuming his courts martial shows him guilty on all counts – would directly make the military stronger, as a means of steeling the reserve of other cowards in a direct way: either you can chance it with the enemy, or we can kill you. Your choice.
This sounds cruel to the ear, and even a bit Stalin-like, but to the complainers, I offer a simple “tough shit”. This is the military, and we are at war. We are at war with an enemy that murders by the thousands. Argue about our reasons for being there all you want; I did, when I was in, not being in favour of the Iraq invasion, but I did my job anyway. I had other sailors relying on me.
Furthermore, this isn’t Vietnam. No one is being sent to war against their will1. The United States military is 100% volunteer. We’re not drafting anyone. If that was the case, then I would not be pushing for this. Bowe Bergdahl made a conscious decision to join the Army after we went to war; it’s not anyone else’s fault he had buyer’s remorse.
Of the people that don’t take the American military seriously, a not-insignificant portion of that includes its own sailors, marines and soldiers. After all, we are all shown the UCMJ, and the parts that say that they can kill us if we do certain things, but no one really takes it seriously. It’s about time to show that the military has bite when it comes to our own, too.
1 – I’ll list one exception here: the National Guard. If you’re a National Guardsman who was made to go to Iraq or Afghanistan for what was essentially a lie to benefit a few companies with White House ties, then yes. You have a legitimate right to be pissed.