Obama's Bergdahl Fairy Tale Has Unhappy Ending
Travel back with me, dear reader, to a magical and sunny time. It was only 10 months ago, on a glorious June morning when President Obama called the White House press corps together in the Rose Garden. There, our smiling president proudly announced that the United States had secured the release of an American serviceman held captive in Afghanistan for five years.
Flanked by the grateful parents of returning Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the president lauded his administration’s “ironclad commitment to bring our prisoners of war home.”
The soldier’s father, Bob Bergdahl, read a prayer; the young man’s mother, Jani, hugged the president. It was a story that could please all Americans: parenthood (quite properly) trumping partisanship.
Yet even as White House image-makers touted the picture of a concerned commander-in-chief looking out for the troops, a nagging bit of foreshadowing interjected itself into the narrative. For starters, the senior Bergdahl’s prayer was delivered in Arabic and began with a blessing from the Koran. While his son was in captivity Bob Bergdahl had grown his hair and beard long, Taliban-style, and now he also sprinkled his remarks from the White House lectern with a few words of Pashto, the language of Bowe Bergdahl’s captors.
More disconcerting still were the terms of the deal securing the soldier’s release, which the president referred to only fleetingly.
“As part of this effort, the United States is transferring five detainees from the prison in Guantanamo Bay to Qatar,” Obama said. “The Qatari government has given us assurances that it will put in place measures to protect our national security.”
By the time National Security Adviser Susan Rice appeared on the Sunday talk shows the following morning to defend the administration’s swap of five hardened terrorists for Bergdahl, voices could be heard on Capitol Hill, not all of them belonging to Republicans, complaining that the White House had reneged on its promise to consult with Congress on the terms of a trade. Even more disquieting, uncomfortable questions were already burbling up about the precise circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture in 2009.
Rice assured those watching on national television that Bergdahl had served the United States with “honor and distinction.” This claim only invited scrutiny—and was immediately challenged by members of Bergdahl’s unit, the 2nd Platoon, Blackfoot Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Regiment.
“What would it look like if I got lost in the mountains?” one former comrade recalled Bergdahl saying. “Do you think I could make it to China or India on foot?”
Another soldier in the company said flatly that Bergdahl had not been captured in any conventional sense—that he had left his post voluntarily, putting others in danger.
“I served in the same battalion in Afghanistan and participated in the attempts to retrieve him throughout the summer of 2009,” wrote Nathan Bradley Bethea. “After we redeployed, every member of my brigade combat team received an order that we were not allowed to discuss what happened to Bergdahl for fear of endangering him. He is safe, and now it is time to speak the truth. And that the truth is: Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down.”
And that father who praised Obama and prayed aloud for his son’s deliverance? Well, after his release, Bowe wouldn’t talk to Bob Bergdahl. One reason may have been revealed by war correspondent Michael Hastings, who has since died. Writing in Rolling Stone magazine in 2012, Hastings revealed that Bergdahl, then a private first class, emailed his parents three days before his 2009 disappearance expressing his disillusionment with the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan. “The future is too good to waste on lies,” he wrote. “And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be American.”
In the subject line of his reply, Bob Bergdahl wrote from his home in Idaho, “OBEY YOUR CONSCIENCE.”
Fast-forward to yesterday afternoon, when the Army announced the result of its much anticipated investigation into Bergdahl’s disappearance. Far from serving with honor and distinction, Bergdahl was charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The charges carry a maximum sentence of life in military prison.
Perhaps that’s what’s really going on here: The military brass wants to correct the record, at least the one created by Obama and Susan Rice. If that’s what is going on, the Army’s legal system will sort out the excesses, if there were any. But more is at stake than political reputations.
In the ensuing 10 months since their release, we’ve learned that at least one of the five prisoners remanded to Qatar from Guantanamo Bay as part of the original swap has been caught making phone calls to the Taliban.
Qatar’s “strict monitoring” of the Taliban 5—if it ever really existed—is set to expire this spring, effectively allowing them to roam free. Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the House Armed Services Committee earlier this year that there is “very little” his agency can do to prevent them from returning to the battlefield and trying to kill American soldiers.
So, far from the fairy tale of a hero’s homecoming that President Obama tried to spin for the American people that Saturday morning 10 months ago, this story doesn’t have a happy ending for America. In his effort to empty the Gitmo detainee facility, the president traded five hard-core terrorists for a man who now stands officially accused of abandoning his fellow soldiers. He very may well be court-martialed and spend a good deal of his life behind bars. It’s the Taliban 5 who, beginning in just a few short weeks, get to live happily ever after.