Last Thursday in Las Vegas, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made another one of his patented controversial comments. Hidden within a litany of complaints about the media and the congressional Republicans, Trump turned his attention to Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. Army soldier who walked off his post in 2009.
“We’re tired of Sgt. Bergdahl, who’s a traitor, a no-good traitor who should have been executed,” Trump said to explosive applause. “Thirty years ago, he would have been shot.”
Be that as it may, the latest news from the Pentagon suggests that Bergdahl will probably not face the death penalty for his desertion. In fact, if Lt. Col. Mark Visger gets his way, Bergdahl may not be punished at all. A memo from Bergdahl’s legal team says that Visger – the officer in charge of Bergdahl’s Article 32 hearing – has recommended that their client face no jail time for his actions. Not only that, but he should not even be subject to a dishonorable discharge.
Legal experts say that’s it’s not unheard of for military commanders to go against an Article 32 recommendation, but it is exceedingly uncommon.
Even the most rabid Obama fan can see the politics dripping off this case. A Bergdahl court-martial would be a big embarrassment for the White House, seeing as how this president decided to trade five Taliban members to get the solider back. Even at the time, the trade was blasted by the president’s critics. If Bergdahl were to be imprisoned, executed, or punished in any way for his actions, the record would reflect the truth: Obama gave up enemy combatants in exchange for a traitor.
Can’t have that.
In an interview with the Boston Herald, Senator John McCain said he would demand answers if Bergdahl got off easy. “If it comes out that he has no punishment,” he said, “we’re going to have a hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee.”
Why would such a hearing be necessary? Because there’s no world where Bergdahl escapes punishment unless there is pressure coming down from the White House. McCain is too politically moderate to say this outright, but you can bet that’s what he’s thinking.
According to Bergdahl’s defense team, the young soldier didn’t mean to aid the Taliban when he wandered off into the wilds of Afghanistan. Unhappy with the leadership in his unit, he thought he could gain access to the next level of military command by causing a scene. His plan was to run 14 miles to another base. Instead, the Taliban captured him and imprisoned him for five years. Whoops…
Bergdahl’s fate could have significant ramifications for the future of our armed forces. If we treat desertion with a slap on the wrist, how do we deter it from happening again? What happens to our military when rulebreaking comes with no consequences? You don’t need a crystal ball to see how this shakes out.
Some things are more important than your precious legacy, Mr. Obama.