Early last week, the Defense Department and military officials announced that U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl will return to active duty merely six weeks after being released from Taliban captivity. After five years as a prisoner of war and six subsequent weeks of therapy and counseling at an Army hospital in San Antonio, Bergdahl will be living in the barracks and working a desk job at Fort Sam Houston.
This announcement, however, is not necessarily considered “joyous” by all, as Bergdahl is an accused deserter, and the trade issuing his release is still of vast contention. Indeed, the trade is partly responsible for the President’s all-time low approval ratings.
In early June, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel adamantly defended the Obama Administration’s decision to trade Sergeant (Sgt.) Bergdahl for five Guantanamo detainees (of the Taliban’s choosing). Angrily defending the ‘imperfect’ but right decision by the Obama Administration, Hagel argued, “The President has constitutional responsibilities and constitutional authorities to protect American citizens and members of our armed forces. That’s what he did.”
Despite Hagel’s assurances that the exchange was made “for the right reasons – to bring home one of our people,” American citizens and representatives remained critical of the exchange because of the threat it poses to national security, particularly following a hearing examining the circumstances surrounding Sgt. Bergdahl’s 2009 capture.
On June 18th, two subcommittees of the House Foreign Affairs Committee examined the circumstances surrounding Sergeant (Sgt.) Bowe Bergdahl’s capture by the Haqqani network in 2009. During the hearing, the subcommittees had the opportunity to question witnesses, including Sgt. Bergdhal’s Afghanistan bunkmate, Cody Full. In his opening statements, Full offered his opinion: “Bergdahl wanted to do the exact opposite of what we were instructed to do. He wanted to hunt and kill.”
Continuing with his statement, Full then testified that Bergdahl mailed personal items home upon the announcement of relocation, but Full also claimed: “we did not know this at the time but only found out after he deserted us.” The accusation that Bergdahl deserted his platoon has left some Americans feeling spiteful that Bergdahl has returned to active duty after just six weeks.
Full both deepened and defended his accusation that Bergdahl deserted in further statements. According to Full, a witness declared that, after “crawling low on the ground through the reeds earlier in the day,” Bergdahl asked for water and “wanted to speak to the Taliban.” He had also left his equipment behind. For Full, “the facts tell [him] that Bergdahl’s desertion was pre-meditated.”
Bergdahl has returned to life as a regular Army soldier, but he has done so with top military justice lawyer Eugene Fidell and an impending investigation to be conducted by Major General Kenneth Dahl. Fidell, who is representing Bergdahl pro bono, is working with Bergdahl’s Army appointed lawyer.
Although evidence supports Full’s accusations that Bergdahl prematurely deserted his team in Afghanistan, he is not only a member of the American army, but is also an American citizen entitled to due process protections. While some might contest Bergdahl’s return prior to investigation, he is entitled that return not only under military law, but also under civilian laws.
Perhaps Fidell’s projections on Bergdahl prior to being hired as his attorney best predict the future and most just outcome for Bergdahl. In June, Fidell advised NBC News, “Bergdahl could get five years in prison, but Bergdahl’s five years in captivity could be a mitigating factor. You typically don’t throw the book at people who have been prisoners.”