Hot Take: Bergdahl Shouldn’t Have Been Given Dishonorable Discharge, Because It Stops Him From Healing

Hot Take: Bergdahl Shouldn’t Have Been Given Dishonorable Discharge, Because It Stops Him From Healing

People, including President Trump (some on Twitter noted he should have kept his mouth shut and not Tweeted till after the decision, and they’re right), were outraged when Bowie Bergdahl got off with no jail time. But, hey, this is the NY Times, so, of course they’re going to go the opposite way in defending a deserter who not only put the lives of fellow soldiers in harms way, but saw many hurt and killed in searching for him. Here we have Rob Cuthbert, a retired Army vet who formerly managed the military discharge upgrade clinic at the Veteran Advocacy Project of the Urban Justice Center

An Injustice in the Bergdahl Sentence

In the view of many people, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl got off easy. His sentence for desertion and misbehavior before the enemy in Afghanistan in 2009, which was handed down Friday, included a dishonorable discharge and no jail time. Sergeant Bergdahl faced the possibility of life in a military prison, so his chief defense lawyer expressed “tremendous relief” at the sentence. But a dishonorable discharge is also a type of life sentence, a perpetual exile from the resources and communities that veterans, especially prisoners of war, need to heal and to reconcile with society.

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Then perhaps he shouldn’t have deserted. Cuthbert admits Bergdahl walked away, even going with the silly “he was going to report people to another base commander” meme

After almost five years in Taliban captivity, I was doubtful that the Army would give Sergeant Bergdahl a life sentence; even the prosecutors capped their request at 14 years. He was guilty of crimes that led to the grave injury of other service members, but after years of working with veterans with less-than-honorable discharges, I thought about how Sergeant Bergdahl, a disabled prisoner of war, would lead the rest of his civilian life. If he was given a dishonorable discharge at 31 years old, how could he mend his wounds, attempt to pay his moral and civic debts, and contribute to the nation?

That’s his problem: he intentionally committed crimes, knowing full well what the penalties for them are. He’s lucky he wasn’t put in front of a a firing squad for desertion in the face of the enemy. But, hey, he was treated poorly by the Taliban, per Berhdahl’s word. What’s the word of a deserter?

Sergeant Bergdahl will soon receive his dishonorable discharge. He will be a civilian with significant physical disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder and a very high risk of suicide. Of the six types of discharge, dishonorable is the most punishing. When he is discharged, Sergeant Bergdahl will be denied almost all reintegration benefits — including comprehensive medical — and he will also not be recognized as a veteran by the federal government. He will come back wounded to family and friends who love him, without the expert medical care of a country that must balance its responsibility to punish him and to heal him.

His problem. Actions have consequences. But, hey, the hot take gets hotter

The trajectory of Sergeant Bergdahl’s career speaks to tragic and avoidable flaws in the military mental health care system. Sergeant Bergdahl suffers from schizotypal personality disorder, and it was only after a mental health-related discharge from the Coast Guard that the Army enlisted him on a medical waiver. If his illness had been treated before his crimes, he could have been eligible for an honorable discharge with benefits. The available military record shows that when Sergeant Bergdahl left his place of duty, he was an exemplary, idealistic young soldier who lived with mental illness, not a traitor.

Got that? Cuthbert is blaming the Army. And goes on and on, thinking that, if military superiors won’t provide clemency, a bipartisan selection of members of Congress should appeal to the Army authorities for clemency. Right. Pretty much the only ones who would support a deserter would be Democrats.

Sergeant Bergdahl’s permanently injured, would-be rescuers are selfless and brave. But we must remember that — regardless of Sergeant Bergdahl’s tragic and unnecessary circumstances of capture — it was the enemies of America who tortured him and tried to kill those who sought to rescue him.

Sergeant Bergdahl’s misguided crimes can’t be forgotten, but his punishment must have limits. In light of his courage in captivity, we must be able to balance two compatible martial values: honor and mercy.

He had no honor, and he received mercy by not being stuck in jail for a decade or more. Or being shot. You know, though, that there will be some movement by leftists to ask for clemency for Bergdahl. These are the same people who supported cop killer Mumia, after all.

Crossed at Pirate’s Cove. Follow me on Twitter @WilliamTeach.

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