Bowe Bergdahl’s court-martial by the press

June 3, 2014


The Army has no immediate plans to punish Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for leaving his post in Afghanistan, Secretary of the Army John McHugh said in a statement on Tuesday, putting Bergdahl’s medical and psychological needs first. Bergdahl, a Taliban prisoner for the past five years, was swapped over the weekend for five Talban heavyweights imprisoned at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp.

That doesn’t mean Bergdahl is off the hook. Already, the 28-year-old soldier has been called a traitor by members of his platoon in the pages of the New York Daily News and on CNN. Members of his unit have blamed him in the New York Times for the deaths of other troopers sent out to rescue him, although the newspaper heavily discounts those claims. James Rosen has even published on a piece sourced anonymously to the Defense Department speculating that Bergdahl was an “active collaborator with the enemy.”

So instead of facing an Army court-martial for allegedly deserting his post on June 30, 2009, Bergdahl finds himself facing a brisk public court-martial in the press. This trial-by-sourcing will only accelerate as the press explores military records and interviews Bergdahl’s troop-mates looking for the evidence.

bowe82The press has every right, of course, to investigate the story and air its findings. Hell, it has a responsibility to cover Bergdahl’s alleged desertion and its fallout. But whatever Bergdahl’s alleged transgressions, his guilt or innocence should be determined by the military, not the media.

Bergdahl also deserves something better than being treated as a political pawn by the Republicans who have brought the full weight of their tongues down on President Barack Obama. Senior Republicans have cited the president’s failure to give Congress the 30-day notice required by law before transferring Gitmo prisoners, objecting to the lopsided terms of the exchange. They are calling for congressional hearings to investigate the deal. “Republican strategists” have even worked as go-betweens, pairing former members of Bergdahl’s platoon with Times reporters (which the paper acknowledges in its reporting). Again, the Republicans have every right to make Obama’s life miserable. Hell, it’s their duty!

The Army obviously has at its fingertips a great dossier with which Bergdahl could be exonerated or convicted of charges. Anonymous government sources can be seen crawling — like riotous weevils — all over the Bergdahl coverage, dispensing sotto voce details about his disappearance, his imprisonment, and his release. It’s a trial outside of court, with editors acting like judges to decide what evidence can be submitted, and readers playing the jury.

If Bergdahl did desert his unit, he can claim plenty of company. About 50,000 U.S. servicemen deserted their posts during World War Two, as did 100,000 British troops. In 1971 alone, 33,094 soldiers deserted the Army as the Vietnam War raged, and 8,000 servicemen deserted between the start of the second Iraq War and mid-2005.

Your average U.S. deserter picks a destination that promises political protection, such as Canada during the Vietnam War, or offers cultural camouflage, as various European countries did during World War Two. According to The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II by Charles Glass, battlefront troopers have traditionally sympathized with deserters out of identification with the deserters’ fear and confusion. In the Catch-22 sense of the word, it takes courage to be that kind of coward.

Desertion in the Pacific theater of World War Two was practically non-existent, Glass writes, compared to European battlefields — mainly because there were so few hospitable venues for a soldier who broke rank. Leave your post on Iwo Jima, and you’d likely walk straight into a bullet or into a nasty confinement, as Bergdahl appears to have done in Afghanistan. Bergdahl must have known desertion would be a quick trip to hell.

The military doesn’t put much effort into tracking deserters down these days. If detained by civilian authorities and identified as military fugitives, a deserter may suffer a slap on the wrist. But the sympathy and understanding we extend to deserters traditionally dissolves when the deserter stands accused of betraying his fellow soldiers or his country, as Bergdahl is.

You could argue that a fair court-martial, one that reviews all the facts in the Bergdahl case, would further traumatize an already wounded soul to no good end. But by sweeping Bergdahl’s desertion case under the rug and forgiving his conduct with a he’s-already-done-his-time shrug, the Army has denied him the chance to clear — or at least clarify — his name.

Bergdahl deserves his day in court to silence the accusations that will otherwise dog him for the rest of his life. If he’s guilty, let him pay his debt and go on with his life.


To court-martial me, send evidence to If you have no evidence, do me a favor and defect to my Twitter feed. Sign up for email notifications of new Shafer columns (and other occasional announcements). Subscribe to this RSS feed for new Shafer columns.

PHOTOS:  U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is pictured in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Army and received by Reuters on May 31, 2014. REUTERS/U.S. Army/Handout via Reuters 

A car drives past yellow balloons and a sign of support for Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in Hailey, Idaho June 1, 2014. REUTERS/Patrick Sweeney


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The strength of the opinion of those who have never served in combat is stunning. Why should we listen to cowards about those who risk their life? Volunteer, or shut up.

Posted by Thomas269 | Report as abusive

While the author wants to imply that Republicans are playing politics it is the men who served with Bergdahl who are condemning him and his actions. We have yet to find a soldier willing to speak up and defend what he did. They weren’t out looking to rescue him after he disappeared. They were looking to capture him for desertion. As has been demonstrated elsewhere six men died as a result of the search or as a result of assets being diverted to assist the search. One might also argue that the President was playing politics with the release by ignoring Congress and approving the release at the height of the VA Medical scandal. Problem is they seem unaware of many of the details of Bergdahl’s capture and are not receiving the kudos for his return that they hoped for.

Posted by Cartman | Report as abusive

I did serve, an entire career, and if what these men have said is true, there is no excuse. It is consequences for actions. It does seem a widely held opinion by those who should know the best that this man is no hero, but rather seems to be a coward and criminal.

Posted by BeRealistic | Report as abusive

“The press has a responsibility to investigate . . .” Actually it does not, gossip columnists are not the press, so far all this has been are gossip columnists. Fox does not qualify as “press” for it too is gossip mongering. Want some honesty? Refresh the nation’s memory of what John McCain really is? His family? How he was to washed out? How he didn’t know how to pilot an aircraft? How he advertised his family to the Viet Cong, expecting special treatment? How his animosity in POW and returned remains negotiations cost the lives of more POWs and the destruction of American remains? How he has NO support from the military but for retired brass making millions in the military-industrial complex? How he was vehemently opposed by veterans’ groups at his convention? Refresh the nation’s memory on that.

Posted by SixthRomeo | Report as abusive

“an already wounded soul”??

What about his already dead comrades, who did not run; their souls were not wounded. Instead many paid the ultimate price when they were ordered to search for him.

Desertion by a wounded ‘soul’ deserves no empathy or sympathy.

As for the low numbers of Pacific desertions during WWII? Consider the near 0% rate of Marine deserters that may have skewed the numbers?

Posted by davidfrancoise | Report as abusive

Mr. Shafer I agree that the press has judged Bergdahl, but how is that different from anyone else such as Zimmerman. If the media would stick to the facts or at least correlate only objective information then the public would have more accurate information to base their decisions/thinking.

My biggest concern is not the overexposure some stories get – that’s easy to screen. But all the stories that are more relative to me and most people, that are never told!

Posted by Stickystones | Report as abusive

absolutely top shelf piece. “Everyone is a Bo Bergdahl”…and the reason why the politico’s who’ve never spent one day in a firefight with the Taliban…or the rest of the world for that matter…continue to mouth off is because the book “War without Mercy” never had any meaning to them.

Those was the most real war in history…not some “made for television” let’s all talk about who committed treason, who fragged their captain, who was a coward, who gave up without a fight, etc, etc.

The comments are even more pathetic. “those people didn’t talk about The War(s)” for a reason. and they sure as hell weren’ all meely mouthed about “courage” and “honor” and all the other bullshit none of them have ever been man enough to have.

Go ahead phuckers…get through Basic Training. Get through Airborne School. Try your hand at RIP…and spend some time with The Corp or the Bat.

You people only know how to start wars…not how to finish let alone win one.


Posted by lkofenglish | Report as abusive

American politicians and media seem to take any opportunity to throw their sh*t over anything, like a child carer’s nightmare.
“wandering off your post” might be a country boy walking up to the top of a hill to enjoy the night, in reasonably secure territory.
“Desertion ?”
“an American with a camera trying to find someone that talks English” which was the reported Taliban communication happens if he encounters a local villager who talks about it.
“Collaboration with the enemy ?”
The Taliban, as ugly as they are, had been the government of Afghanistan for several years, with a large degree of support as an alternative to rapacious warlords and tribal wars, prior to the US bombing, northern warlord support, and NATO occupation and fight mainly in the field as guerrilla soldiers.
“Terrorists ? Like Syria, Ukraine, … ?”

If Americans had a better grip on reality rather than their pet hatreds, they might not turn out 99% losers with just 1% winners.

Posted by Neurochuck | Report as abusive

If this young man, who served his country well, found to his dismay the truth regarding the criminal nature of America’s military involvement in Afghanistan, and then left his post and joined those Afghans who are fighting the foreign occupation of their country—then I applaud him!

Posted by mustafaspeaks | Report as abusive

# Save the people of Donbass and Lugansk from the Ukrainian Army and American mercenaries

Posted by brovkin | Report as abusive

My, my, my, here we go again.
Let’s see; the Repukes are pissed because he was only one guy to their 5.
The Dembo’s are pissed for something else.
And the war mongers are shoveling the same SH!T.

Let me guess; I don’t know because I wasn’t there?
I haven’t “served”?
War mongers “serve” no one but themselves and their pocketbooks.
You take money to kill for a living and stand behind the flag as if it represents something.
You get a fake gold medal made in China and 15% off a car when you get back.
Want to know why you’re “forgotten”?
Because we never cared about you in the first place because you have no intelligence to think for yourselves, you can’t be real men and get a real job and raise your families.
The sad joke is our military and their utter failure.

Posted by BillinSavannah | Report as abusive

Obama also showed the world how incompetent he is as well;
we don’t negotiate with terrorists?
Then why trade?
Why five to one?
Is this guy worth 5 of theirs?
What did Obama get for the five from the Afghannies?

Posted by BillinSavannah | Report as abusive

I think it is pretty obvious that the administration did not expect the members of Burdahl’s platoon to speak out so quickly and loudly. Perhaps they thought the media was left enough to not report it? Or worse, they didn’t think about it at all.

Jack, the vast majority of deserters that you quote from other wars were DRAFTED, not volunteers. There’s a huge difference.

@Billinsavannah has a point. The president went to Afghanistan himself just a week ago for unknown reasons. There obviously were other negotiations taking place that we are unaware of. Probably to do with the next Afgan president and our presence there for the next few years.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

You know the Left has no defense when they trot out the old “if you are a coward who didn’t serve you have no right to an opinion” slander.

Posted by JoeThePumpernel | Report as abusive

For the love of God, authors of articles like this is truly what give Reuters a bad name.

Clueless and reaching and even more agenda driven than the darkest thoughts floating in the minds of the five desperate and driven Taliban goons released in the greatest scam to date Obama has perp’d on us the American People.

Freaking grow some journalistic balls and freaking actually investigate something.

Till then I will remain convinced that your entire news staff are basically nothing more than children in their parents basement playing with an old word processor.

Posted by janzales | Report as abusive

to the people YELLING on this thread; your defense of this VOLUNTEER SOLDIER is laughable. Bowe Bergdahl volunteer to go to Afghanistan. He wasn’t drafted like people were in the prior wars so defense of Bergdahl is ridiculous.

He told people he hates America and wanted to help the Afghani people. Well then he took a walk deserting his post. That is treason and yes we are bringing him home hopefully for him to stand trial – a military trial for his wrongdoing.

However Obama allowing 5 murderers to go in exchange for this pos is insane and what he did without congress knowing is an impeachable act. I am not a Republican or a Democrat – I am a member of what I like to call THE PATRIOT PARTY.

PATRIOT PARY does a few things very well – drink beer, be musicians, play out, hang with friends and looks at both sides of the issue at hand.

Until Bergdahl is debriefed and giving a mental exam he should not be released into his parents custody.

If he did desert his post – he should be court-martialed. the galling part of this is that we have 3 men who are real heros cooling their heels outside of America:

Edward Snowden
Bradley Manning
Robert Levine

Bring them back home, Obama.

Posted by Bonju57 | Report as abusive

“Bergdahl also deserves something better than being treated as a political pawn by the Republicans”

Isn’t that exactly what Obama was doing first?

I mean he didn’t HAVE to have a Rose Garden ceremony in what was obviously a very ill conceived attempt to get some positive military related coverage. Honestly, had that press conference never happened, half the people trying to counter that narrative would have no incentive to speak.

Obama politicized this first. He doesn’t get to pretend otherwise.

Posted by ScreenName5 | Report as abusive

“Bergdahl also deserves something better than being treated as a political pawn by the Republicans”

It is transparent to most Veterans that he did this to try win good will during the VA investigations. It has back fired big time, and the worst part is that this gives our enemies an incentive to kidnap as many Americans as possible.

Posted by TheNewWorld | Report as abusive

One would think the return of a POW would be cause for celebration. Of course, if it can be turned into a partisan bickerfest, one would be wrong. I don’t think either readers or media types are entitled to an opinion on this soldier’s conduct. That is for a military trial before a panel to decide.

Perhaps it would be different if their were lots of POWs coming home. T me, the lowest blow was the unnecessary criticism of his family by some gossips on TV.

Posted by yooper | Report as abusive

disregard the post above.

It is really too bad that this has turned into a political circus on both sides of the aisle. If the man is accused of deserting his post, then try him in the U&C military court, and stop all this hyper rationalizations and finger pointing. There is no excuse whatever for desertion, period. What is interesting is that the liberal side is all mumble mouthed while the conservative side is like a brace and bit. Looking at the cast of characters, I would say that some errant political maneuvering is at work. It is too bad that the country has to be subjected to this administration game of chance, which it has clearly lost. Five Taliban for one accused deserter is not in the interest of this country or Afghanistan. In fact, it was a stupid deal. Used car salesmen have more intelligence that Junior High Obama.

Posted by Art16 | Report as abusive

I totally understand how the members of Burdahl’s platoon feel & I can’t blame them for speaking up. I have no reason to disbelieve what they are saying I think they speak the truth & know what happened more then ANY politician whether he or she is a congress person, cabinet position, President democrat or Republican.I fear for them speaking out. I don’t think the powers that be expected it. Did they expect a “glorious response” to all of this? OR maybe not. Maybe That’s why he snuck it through congress so fast. . If any of our leaders were in a platoon in a war zone & a member deserted they would resent what is happening too . In a war zone Troops fight for each other they bind as a unit to stay alive. They may or may not agree with the politics of the war but they believe in the reality of war which is stick together watch each others back and come back alive. That is reality for anyone in the trenches. They depend on each other. A deserter is not looked upon well. Interesting to see how they play this one out. Will they silence his fellow troops threaten them? Threaten them with expulsion punish them with IRS Audits? . I fear for them. Will it turn out Bergdahl was a “CIA operative on a secret mission, mentally ill, bipolar.. Who knows? ALL Politicians Lie Most of the time. Obama is no different. He made this deal bringing a “POW” home. I think he just wanted to return these Taliban leaders. Has been his manta from the start. I think he thought he would score brownie points getting this young soldier home. Didn’t expect a backlash because many believe he was a deserter, not a POW. I feel for his family I’m a mother. I would want my son back too . In the USA we are innocent till proven guilty If these 5 are high ranking Taliban they say they are it was a bad deal. Especially if this guy was a deserter. Somehow I think it will turn out he is “not a deserter ” which will be bad for the troops who were there and know the truth.

Posted by anderpar | Report as abusive reason-against-the-united-states.html

“Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open Court. The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason.”

Now that you armchair troopers know the facts, you can be quiet with your treason charges. Happy to help you not look like fools any more.

Posted by pyradius | Report as abusive

HELP! # Save the people of Donbass from the Ukrainian army and American mercenaries

Posted by brovkin | Report as abusive

I’m happy because it give the Fox News Nuts something besides BENGHAZI! ~ The GOP = the people with no plans, only complaints.

Posted by Matt8260 | Report as abusive

Shame on those brave souls who risked and lost their lives searching for this deserter. And shame on anyone who would question Obama. Shame Shame Shame. /sarc

Posted by HerbertSpencer | Report as abusive

Actually the Army’s top General is calling for a court marshal and other top military commanders are agreeing.

However the Secretary of the Army (political tool and NOT in the Military) is saying different. That’s because the Secretary of the Army is Obama’s man and NOT a Military man. Just another Obama stunt and Obama isn’t going to willingly court marshall his soldier that he wanted to look like he rescued to drown out the heat from the VA scandal. (yes the VA scandal is a DNC and GOP Scandal, but Vets are the ones most of all flocking to independent or Tea Party).

Posted by Syanis | Report as abusive

The press never intended to report anything deleterious about their beloved king and progressive demigod, but the statists overplayed their hand. They promoted Bergdahl, a deserter held by the kidnappers of the Hakkoni gang from Private to Sergeant to make him more valuable in a prospective trade. The Obama administration was negotiating not for Bergdahl, but for a future negotiation with the American people. For they were going to clear out the terrorists in Gitmo, and they needed cover, at the start of the Progressive’s presidency, to return the most notorious killers we have had safely locked up to be repatriated to Afghanistan as we retreated from the misunderstood jihadis.
For they would have us become a nation without God and honor. It is the greater crime that they attempt to steal a nations soul in their government schools education programs.
There is a way a truth and a life that opens ones eyes and ears to truth, even as weak sisters attempt to shield us from His Spirit.

Posted by accbar | Report as abusive

[…] Bowe Bergdahl’s court-martial by the press […]

Posted by June 5th 2014 Grumpy Daily Headlines | Grumpy Opinions | Report as abusive

Why does the left wing media insist upon referring to Bergdahl as having been “captured” and as a “captive”?

No fewer than six witnesses have described how Bergdahl packed up his gear and deserted to go find and JOIN the Taliban. Bergdahl, who now calls himself “Abdullah”, wasn’t “captured”, he JOINED.

Posted by HaywoodJablomie | Report as abusive