What Happened To Sgt Bowe Bergdahl? The 4 Main Things We Know So Far
If you didn't know who Bowe Bergdahl was before this week, you certainly do now. On Saturday, captured U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl was released by the Taliban in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees, a prisoner-trading deal which, for several reasons, has embroiled the White House in controversy. There are even suggestions that Bergdahl, once regaled as a war hero, was anything but — that he may have deserted his unit and been captured by the Taliban.
Many have lined up behind President Obama, supporting his deal to release Guantanamo detainees — a place a lot of people would rather see abolished — to retrieve an American soldier, whose motives will be assessed in due course. And many right-wing pundits have already written off Bergdahl as a traitor, while making the (actually pretty good) legal argument that Obama violated the law by not notifying the Congress 30 days ahead of time, as mandated by the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
It's a complicated case, and it probably won't get simpler anytime soon. Here are four things you need to know about Sgt. Bergdahl.
1. He Seemed Disillusioned With the Military
In terms of Bergdahl's motives, and the circumstances of his disappearance and emergence under Taliban captivity, specifics really aren't yet known. This much is clear: he had become critically disillusioned with the U.S. military's presence in Afghanistan prior to his disappearance.
According to a 2012 Rolling Stone profile by the late Michael Hastings, a friend of Bergdahl's was slain in combat on June 25, 2009. In an email to his parents sent June 27, he laid out in no uncertain terms how he'd grown to feel about the war.
The future is too good to waste on lies. And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be american. The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting.
... We don't even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks... We make fun of them in front of their faces, and laugh at them for not understanding we are insulting them...I am sorry for everything. The horror that is america is disgusting...There are a few more boxes coming to you guys. Feel free to open them, and use them.
Just days later, on June 30, Bergdahl disappeared. In videos released during his captivity, Bergdahl claimed that he got captured after lagging behind his unit. But a Pentagon official told the AP Monday that their 2010 investigation into his disappearance concluded that Bergdahl had deliberately left his unit.
2. He Had Mentioned Leaving "Into the Mountains" Before
Prior to the start of Bergdahl's deployment to Afghanistan, he reportedly told a fellow soldier, Jason Fry, that he planned to leave if things went too badly. According to Fy, who called Bergdahl "focused and well-behaved":
If this deployment is lame, I'm just going to walk off into the mountains of Pakistan.
Fry also told Rolling Stone that Bergdahl was "gravitating away" from the other members of his unit, instead learning to speak Pashto and spending more time with Afghans.
3. All This Could Be True, and He Could've Still Been an Unwilling Prisoner
Being unhappy with the military, the mission, your unit, or all of those things at once, doesn't necessarily preclude somebody from being captured by a hostile enemy force. Even if Bergdahl wandered away from his unit, as the AP's Pentagon source says their investigation concluded, even as a deliberate act of desertion, that doesn't necessarily mean he was doing so to aid the enemy.
But that's exactly the claim being advanced by some members of his own unit. His squad leader that night, Staff Sergeant Justin Gerieve, claims that Taliban attacks against the unit became more direct after Bergdahl was gone, fueling suspicion he'd leaked information or was collaborating.
Notwithstanding, he's now finally home, and whatever consequences he'll face (if any) over years-long captivity will soon be known. He is entitled, after all, to tell his story and he will if he stands trial. Until then, when the full facts of his case reach a courtroom under light of day, there's no telling for sure what he did — or did not — do.
4. Many Conservatives Did Back-Breaking Flip-Flops on Bergdahl
Ah, the joys of social media. Matt Binder of Majority FM caught on to something kind of funny: As it turns out, an awful lot of conservative voices — which are now disparaging President Obama's decision to cut the deal, the price of Bergdahl, and indeed the worth of bringing him home — were months ago CALLING for his release. Binder collected a few such examples, and the result is a telling case study in how the changing landscape of the political game can cause near-complete reversals of ideals.
It's both the greatest and most terrifying thing about Twitter: you can never truly escape what you were talking about a year ago. There are some fair responses to this criticism, or course — circumstances do change over time, and opinions should too. Nobody then knew about the five-to-one deal, or necessarily had suspicions about Bergdahl himself. Well, unless you kept abreast enough of the news to read Hastings' Rolling Stone piece, which came out in 2012.
But some of these tweets don't sound too concerned about nuance or circumstance. At least not until after Bergdahl's return was secured, and his name became an easy reference point to throw in an #impeachobama discussion.