Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl: Deserter, Deserted or Does It Even Matter?

Five high-level Taliban detainees were transferred from Guantánamo Bay to Qatar on May 31 in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s freedom, without notice to Congress.  The soldier who was held captive by the Taliban-aligned Haqqani network in Afghanistan from June 2009 until his release in May 2014 is the most beloved or hated man in America, depending on whom you ask.  The deserter-slash-deserted title applied to Bowe by various competing news outlets has divided America; I hope to bridge that inane gap by the end of this article.

Grammy-winning performers recently honored Bergdahl and wore “Bowe bracelets” for the “Last POW in Afghanistan,” as he was commonly referred.  Conversely, Republicans have pigeonholed him an “enemy,” “traitor” and “coward.”  This is the same political party that anointed Cliven Bundy, whose posse shot at federal agents, a hero.

Was Bowe a deserter?  The day his release was announced, without hesitation some of his platoon mates indicated that the facts surrounding his disappearance were suspicious, and they most certainly were:  He unquestionably left his secure area and entered enemy lines without his body armor or weapon.  However, there is considerable evidence to prove U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was tortured, beaten and held in a cage by his Taliban captors in Afghanistan after he tried to escape.

Should President Obama have called Bowe Bergdahl a hero?  The White House held a press conference on the North Lawn with Bergdahl’s parents, who looked like they were straight out of central casting for Duck Dynasty. President Obama said Bergdahl, a man who had spent years in captivity with the Taliban, had served with “honor and distinction,” which is an accurate statement regardless of whether he was a deserter. 

There is no denying Bergdahl’s freedom was secured by releasing several Guantánamo Bay prisoners of war, which seemed to ruffle the feathers of many on the Right.  But those five men were never charged with crimes.  Instead, they sat in prison cells and were not provided access to lawyers or even judges.  Like many enemy combatants wasting away in Cuba, the now famous five never provided U.S. authorities with a treasure trove of information and intelligence that was connected to war crimes.  In short, their containments were baseless and unjustified.   

I’d like to think I am a reasonable man, and to me, it seems appropriate that before we brand Bergdahl a deserter or deserted soldier, we bring our GIs home and afford them the due process they fought so hard to protect overseas. Then, and only then, should we let the chips-slash-truth fall where they may.

We live in a country where we honor the servicemen and women who protect our freedoms, even if we question the decisions they make when they wear their uniforms.  I see no worthwhile reason to desert that opinion.

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