by Betsy McCaughey | October 14, 2015 12:04 am
After a preliminary hearing, Army officials are recommending Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl get off without jail time or a punitive discharge for walking off his Afghanistan military base in 2009. He could even get back pay and lifetime disability payments. The recommendation leaked out Sunday, infuriating some of Bergdahl’s former platoon-mates. Instead of examining Bergdahl’s crimes, the hearing whitewashed them.
Why the cover-up? To make President Obama look good. Last year, Obama was criticized for swapping a “dream team” of five top Taliban warriors from Guantanamo for a deserter who had fallen into enemy hands. Reinventing Bergdahl as a hero makes that trade sound acceptable. Disgracefully, that is what the Army is doing.
Defending the swap last year, administration official Susan Rice claimed Bergdahl had served with “honor and distinction.” The hearing was scripted to make that fairy tale claim look true. Inside the 393-page transcript is evidence of a cover-up.
Bergdahl didn’t tell his story at the hearing. Instead the defense called Major General Kenneth Dahl, who had been assigned to investigate Bergdahl’s disappearance and had interviewed him for one and a half days. Dahl spun an implausible tale that Bergdahl never intended to desert. Instead he planned to leave the base for one night, run to a neighboring military base and tell an unnamed general there about mismanagement in his platoon. Huh? The nearest base was 30 kilometers (nearly 20 miles) away over rugged terrain. Running there in the dark night — near physically impossible. It was a crazy alibi, but no one questioned it.
Dahl painted Bergdahl as an idealistic, patriotic, naive man — saying he resembled John Galt in Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged.” Shockingly, no one presented evidence to dispute this phony portrait, though there is plenty: the email Bergdahl had sent his parents saying “the horror that is America is disgusting” or his comments to his platoon-mates disparaging the war effort.
The biggest ruse: the flat denial that any of Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers lost their lives looking for him. The issue came up twice. Dahl was asked whether he investigated that question. Dahl said he had not, because he was told not to. Yet moments later, he stated “there were no soldiers killed who were deliberately looking and searching for … Sergeant Bergdahl. I did not find any evidence of that.” Of course he didn’t. He was ordered not to look.
Bergdahl’s three commanders all testified that as soon as he went missing, a massive search was launched. Thousands of infantry were pushed to their limits, spending 45 days in sweltering 100-degree plus days and cold nights, combing remote areas and driving though villages, down roads and into terrain they had not entered previously. Major S. Silvino testified that IED blasts doubled, and his soldiers faced higher risk because they were searching unfamiliar territory, and were weakened by fatigue and lack of water.
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It was compelling testimony, but the fix was already in. The hearing officer announced right afterward that military officials had already agreed to exclude it: “To the extent that Major Silvino or any other government witness testified that there were injuries suffered by U.S. forces during the alleged search and recovery operations, I will not consider this as evidence.”
Some of his platoon-mates have been all over television calling Bergdahl a deserter. They were not on the witness list. Gregory Leatherman, who served with Bergdahl and is no longer in the military, was brought in to testify that Bergdahl was mentally troubled.
But one the Army’s top forensic psychologists, Dr. Christopher Lange (who was not called to testify) examined Bergdahl and reported that in 2009, Bergdahl “was able to appreciate the nature and quality and wrongfulness of his conduct.”
“Wrongfulness.” Not at this charade hearing. The defense called captivity expert Terrence Russell and set him up by asking about “public efforts to smear the reputations of soldiers who are captured.” He answered that Bergdahl is a hero for serving “his country with honor in captivity.”
Bergdahl’s lawyer closed by saying that Bergdahl “is deeply grateful to President Obama for saving his life.”
What about the lives of the men and women in uniform who serve bravely? This hearing dishonored them. Now it will be up to General Robert Abrams, commander of the U.S. Army Forces, to clean up this dishonorable mess.
Betsy McCaughey is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and author of “Government by Choice: Inventing the United States Constitution.”
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