Command Sergeant Major: No Troops Died Searching for Bergdahl
Stars and Stripes | Mar 31, 2016 | by Nancy Montgomery
Command Sgt. Maj. Ken Wolf had a message for the families of troops killed in Afghanistan after Bowe Bergdahl walked off his post.
“Their sons did not die looking for Pfc. Bergdahl,” Wolf said on Thursday’s “Serial” podcast, the 11th and final episode of the season.
The podcast investigating the Bergdahl case from seemingly all conceivable angles over the past few months, debunked the persistent rumor that six soldiers from his battalion had been killed during the 45-day, all-out search for Bergdahl. They were all killed in August and September, after the exhausting search effectively had been called off and the mission had changed to secure upcoming Afghanistan elections, according to court testimony.
“We looked and we looked and we looked and we didn’t find him,” said Wolf, who was the top enlisted leader in Bergdahl’s brigade. “No one in the Army is going to say, ‘We stopped looking for you’, O.K? But here’s the deal — it’s been 45 days and at this point we know where he’s at. He’s in Pakistan.”
Bergdahl’s unit — the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment — was not going to leave its battle space and go into Pakistan to find him, Wolf said.
Wolf, who said he believes Bergdahl betrayed his unit, nonetheless countered arguments from other soldiers that the search had second- and third-order effects that resulted in troops being killed in ambushes and other attacks.
“It doesn’t hold water because you’re in a very bad neighborhood regardless. You can get killed any day,” Wolf said.
Bergdahl walked off Observation Post Mest just after midnight on June 30, 2009, with a plan to hike 20 miles to Forward Operating Base Sharana to report what he viewed as his unit’s dangerous leadership, according to court testimony. He was captured hours later by the Taliban and kept captive for nearly five years under tortuous conditions in Pakistan.
He was released in 2014 in a prisoner swap that sent five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Qatar — a deal that helped politicize the case. In televised statements, soldiers were enraged by the idea that Bergdahl might be lionized, when in their view he was a deserter and possibly a traitor. Some claimed he was responsible for others’ deaths and deserved to be court-martialed.
Bergdahl, 30, promoted to sergeant during his captivity, is headed to court-martial later this year on charges of desertion and misconduct that endangered troops who searched for him. The crimes carry sentences ranging from “no punishment” to life in prison. Two Army officers who investigated the case said Bergdahl should not be imprisoned, and most experts consider it unlikely that he would be harshly punished because of mitigating factors: Bergdahl enlisted in 2008 with a waiver after washing out of Coast Guard basic training with an emotional breakdown and has been diagnosed with a personality disorder that features delusions and paranoia. He was, according to court testimony, a naive idealist who sought to do the right thing, no matter the consequences, and a model prisoner-of-war who tried repeatedly to resist and escape.
Although the podcast concluded that no one was killed in the search, it did discuss two men seriously harmed on missions in the first couple of weeks after Bergdahl disappeared. Navy SEAL Jimmy Hatch lost a leg in a gunfight on a mission to find Bergdahl. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Allen was shot in the head on a different mission; he lost part of his brain, was paralyzed and rendered mute.
The podcast revealed that two other soldiers had walked off their posts in Afghanistan. In 2012, a soldier left his forward operating base to walk to join his unit at their outpost. In 2010, a soldier left FOB Sharana planning to walk to eastern Europe, carrying sunscreen and an ornamental sword and battle ax. Both were discovered early on by Afghan police and returned to their units before any harm was done. Neither was charged. The one planning to walk to Europe was sent home “to get the help he needed,” a military therapist told podcast host Sarah Koenig. The Army treats people like that as “head cases,” the therapist told Koenig, “like astronauts taking off their helmets in space”.
Some 3,500 soldiers have been convicted of being absent without leave from 2001 to 2014, and 980 convicted of desertion, most all of them in the U.S., according to numbers the Army provided to the podcast researchers.
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Gen. Abrams to Decide Whether Bergdahl Case Goes to Court-Martial
Oct 12, 2015 | by Richard Sisk
The fate of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is now at the wide discretion of Army Gen. Robert B. “Abe” Abrams, son of the legendary Gen. Creighton W. Abrams, Jr. for whom the MIAI and M1A2 Abrams tanks are named.
As the convening authority in the case under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Abrams, head of U.S. Forces Command, can order a general court-martial on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
He can also order a special court-martial, recommend non-judicial punishment, or choose to take no action at all.
Abrams took over at Forces Command in August and became the convening authority in Bergdahl’s case, succeeding Gen. Mark Milley, the new Army chief of staff.
Abrams is an armor officer like his father, who commanded the 37th Tank Battalion in the Third Army of Gen. George S. Patton during World War II. Creighton Abrams later succeeded Gen. William Westmoreland as U.S. commander in Vietnam and was Army chief of staff until shortly before his death in 1974.
It was Milley earlier this year who ordered an Article 32 fact-finding hearing in the Bergdahl case on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy for leaving his post in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009.
Bergdahl was captured, reportedly by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network, and was held captive for nearly five years. He was freed in May 2014 in a controversial exchange for five detainees at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval base.
Last week, Army Lt. Col. Mark Visger, the hearing officer in the Article 32 proceeding, “recommended that the charges be referred to a special court-martial and that a punitive discharge and confinement would be inappropriate given all the circumstances,” according to Bergdahl’s defense team.
Visger’s recomendations have not been made public. Bergdahl’s lawyers have called for their release. “It is unfortunate that the government has not simply released Lt. Col. Visger’s report, which is unclassified,” said Eugene Fidell, Bergdahl’s civilian lawyer.
In a filing, Lt. Colonel Franklin D. Rosenblatt, Bergdahl’s military attorney, wrote to Visger that “Given your conclusion — with which we agree — about whether confinement or a punitive discharge are warranted, and the factors you cited in support of that conclusion, non-judicial punishment under Article 15, UCMJ, is the appropriate disposition.”
Special courts-martial are convened for cases that would equate to misdemeanors in the civilian system and limit maximum punishments to one year of jail time, a reduction in rank and a bad-conduct discharge.
Gen. Abrams’ courses of action are not limited by Visger’s recommendations. It is not unprecedented for a convening authority to go against the recommendations of an Article 32 hearing officer.
During the Aarticle 32 hearing, Bergdahl’s defense team argued that he walked away from his post in a misguided effort to report to a general officer 19 miles away on problems in his unit.
Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, who conducted a lengthy preliminary investigation of the Bergdahl case, testified at the hearing that he did not believe Bergdahl deserved jail time.
“I do not believe that there is a jail sentence at the end of this process,” Dahl said. “I think it would be inappropriate.”
Dahl, who interviewed Bergdahl at length, described him as “young, naive and inexperienced,” adding that “I believe he is remorseful.”
Military Selects Rarely Used Charge For Bergdahl Case
RALEIGH, N.C. – Military prosecutors have reached into a section of military law seldom used since World War II in the politically fraught case against Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier held prisoner for years by the Taliban after leaving his post in Afghanistan.
Observers wondered for months if Bergdahl would be charged with desertion after the deal brokered by the U.S. to bring him home. He was — but he was also charged with misbehavior before the enemy, a much rarer offense that carries a stiffer potential penalty in this case.
“I’ve never seen it charged,” Walter Huffman, a retired major general who served as the Army’s top lawyer, said of the misbehavior charge. “It’s not something you find in common everyday practice in the military.”
Bergdahl could face a life sentence if convicted of the charge, which accuses him of endangering fellow soldiers when he “left without authority; and wrongfully caused search and recovery operations.”
Huffman and others say the misbehavior charge allows authorities to allege that Bergdahl not only left his unit with one less soldier, but that his deliberate action put soldiers who searched for him in harm’s way. The Pentagon has said there is no evidence anyone died searching for Bergdahl.
“You’re able to say that what he did had a particular impact or put particular people at risk. It is less generic than just quitting,” said Lawrence Morris, a retired Army colonel who served as the branch’s top prosecutor and top public defender.
The Obama administration has been criticized both for agreeing to release five Taliban operatives from the Guantanamo Bay prison and for heralding Bergdahl’s return to the U.S. with an announcement in the White House Rose Garden. The administration stood by the way it secured his release even after the charges were announced.
The military has scheduled an initial court appearance known as an Article 32 hearing for Bergdahl on Sept. 17 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The proceeding is similar to a civilian grand jury, and afterward the case could be referred to a court-martial and go to trial.
Misbehavior before the enemy was used hundreds of times during World War II, but scholars say its use appears to have dwindled in conflicts since then. Misbehavior before the enemy cases were tried at least 494 times for soldiers in Europe between 1942 and 1945, according to a Military Law Review article.
Legal databases and media accounts turn up only a few misbehavior cases since 2001 when fighting began in Afghanistan, followed by Iraq less than two years later. By contrast, statistics show the U.S. Army prosecuted about 1,900 desertion cases between 2001 and the end of 2014.
The misbehavior charge is included in Article 99 of the military justice code, which is best known for its use to prosecute cases of cowardice. However, Article 99 encompasses nine different offenses including several not necessarily motivated by cowardice, such as causing a false alarm or endangering one’s unit — the charge Bergdahl faces.
The complexity of Article 99 may be one reason it’s not frequently used, said Morris, who published a book on the military justice system.
“It is of course more complicated than the desertion charge, not as well understood, a higher burden on the government to prove,” he said.
Huffman, now a law professor at Texas Tech University, said another reason may be that different parts of military law already deal with similar misconduct, including disobeying orders and avoiding duty.
Recent prosecutions under the misbehavior charge include a Marine lance corporal who pleaded guilty after refusing to provide security for a convoy leaving base in Iraq in 2004. A soldier in Iraq was charged with cowardice in 2003 under Article 99 after he saw a mangled body and sought counseling, but the charges were later dropped.
The specification that Bergdahl faces appears in the 1971 case of an Army captain accused of endangering a base in Vietnam by disobeying an order to establish an ambush position. The captain was found guilty of other charges including dereliction of duty.
Another case cited in a 1955 military law journal says an Army corporal was convicted under Article 99 of endangering his unit in Korea by getting drunk on duty. The article says he “became so drunk that it took the tank company commander thirty minutes to arouse him.”
For Bergdahl, the Article 99 offense allows the prosecutors to seek a stiffer penalty than the desertion charge, which in this case carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Bergdahl’s attorney, Eugene Fidell, has argued his client is being charged twice for the same action, saying in a previous television interview that “it’s unfortunate that someone got creative in drafting the charge sheet and figured out two ways to charge the same thing.”
The scholars say that’s a valid issue for Fidell to bring up in court, but it may not sway military authorities.
“The question is: Is it a piling on?” said Jeffrey K. Walker, a St. John’s University law professor, retired Air Force officer and former military lawyer. “It does almost look like you’re trying to get two bites at the same apple.”
by Bill Whittle
The first time most of us heard the name Bowe Bergdahl was when President Obama stood with his parents in the Rose Garden, announcing that after having been captured in Afghanistan in June, 2009 he was going to be released – traded, as it turns out, for five top-level terrorists being held in Guantanamo Bay.
It’s funny how hindsight works. I’ve known several military families in my day, but Bergdahl’s parents – his father especially – not only did not strike me as a military dad: he struck me as man who had never put on a tie in his life.
Well, it turns out he wasn’t really like the military dads I have come to know because his son wasn’t really like the military men I have come to know. Prior to his deployment to Afghanistan, Bergdahl reportedly told fellow specialist Jason Fry, “If this deployment is lame, I’m just going to walk off into the mountains of Pakistan.”
If you talk to them, or even watch a documentary like Restrepo, or Korengal — where I was both amazed and embarrassed that the US Army could leave our troops that far out on a limb in such appalling conditions and in constant threat of being overrun – but even in those documentaries, in the bitching and complaining that has always been a point of pride for soldiers since the throwing of the first rock, you would not hear American soldiers say things like:
…life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be american…The system is wrong. I am ashamed to be an american. And the title of US soldier is just the lie of fools. … The US army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at. It is the army of liars, backstabbers, fools, and bullies… I am sorry for everything. The horror that is america is disgusting.
OBEY YOUR CONSCIENCE! replied Bergdahl’s father after receiving his son’s final email, quoted from above. And so Bowe Bergdahl, having decided the deployment was lame, walked off into the mountains towards Pakistan.
And that would be treason, and desertion, and all the rest.
When Barack Obama came under fire for his mishandling of the horrific treatment of US veterans at the VA in Phoenix, and in fact throughout the entire system, he did what he usually did: deploy Susan Rice to come up with some optics. So we, as a people, were treated to the sight of the Compassionate Leader, who had, after monumental effort and at great personal cost, moved mountains to make sure that No Man Was Left Behind. We were told this action was in keeping with the highest traditions of the US Military, but we were not told that the Man Was Left Behind because he decided to walk away from his post and join the Islamic enemy. Six men, however, were left behind, and their names are, from left to right and top to bottom:
I am asking you to stop reading for a moment – just stop reading, and don’t just glance at that composite picture of these men’s faces. Just stop for a moment, and look at them, as I did, and realize that the mothers and fathers of these six men did not get to stand in glory next to Barack Obama at the White House, or walk arm-in-arm with him down the portico. Those parents suffered – they suffer today and will suffer for every day of their lives – because Bowe Bergdhal thought the Afghan deployment was lame and walked off towards the mountains. Those parents are suffering today because when Bowe Bergdhal took his walk, they – and many, many others – were sent to look for him. And they were killed, while Bowe Bergdahl lived, because while they too probably thought the deployment was lame they stayed and did their duty to their unit, their Army, their parents, their country, it’s President and most of all they fulfilled their duty to themselves.
Once Bergdahl had been repatriated, and the rumors of his desertion started to gain traction, we were told by the President’s Press Secretary how Bergdahl had served with distinction. This was a lie, and they knew it was a lie. Recently, Bergdahl’s platoon mate, Jordan Vaugh, told Fox News on camera how they had been sent out no less than fifty times trying to rescue this deserter, not only putting even more men at risk but seriously disrupting the tempo of offensive operations. He told about the disbelief and disgust at being forced to sign non-disclosure agreements in the wake of the controversy. He told about the shock and dismay and destruction of morale caused by the repeated attempts to risk his life, and those of his fellow soldiers, to recover this deserter and the shame he felt, not at America’s mission in Afghanistan but rather at the cover-up being pushed onto him and his fellow soldiers by the Obama administration.
Because the American Deserter, you see, cares not for the men that serve in uniform. He cares not for the US Army; he does in fact find them to be bullies and fools. The American Deserter hates this country, is deeply ashamed of it, and he always has been. The American Deserter is a narcissist who can never, ever be wrong. The American Deserter traded one psychologically damaged traitor for five key terrorists; the American Deserter watched men die on a rooftop in Benghazi and did nothing; the American Deserter traded the security and future of Poland and Eastern Europe to the Russians in return for political gains and he did it on TV; the American Deserter exchanges the most sensitive National Security information with his Secretary of State on non-secure servers with knowledge that it is both illegal and potentially crippling and he does not care. It is abundantly clear – and it has been abundantly clear for some time – that the American Deserter considers this deployment lame and he has walked off toward the golf courses in the Hamptons or the beaches in Hawaii where he can be found practically daily: bathed in his own glory, responsible to no one and nothing, and following dictates of his own diseased conscience while better men than him die to keep him from having to face justice.
House Committee Demands Bergdahl Information From White House
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, sent a letter to the White House Thursday asking for all “documents and information related to the decision to transfer the five Taliban members for Sgt. [Bowe] Bergdahl.
Addressed to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, the letter refers to Bergdahl’s release last year in exchange for five individuals held by the U.S. government at Guantanamo Bay. Then a private, Bergdahl went missing from his base in 2009. He was formally charged with desertion earlier this week. The letter to mcDonough stated:
“Almost five years passed between the date that Sgt. Bergdahl disappeared from his unit and the date that he was exchanged for the five Taliban members.
It is unclear from the information that has been provided to the Committee and from publicly available reports why the decision was made to exchange Sgt. Bergdahl for the five Taliban members.
It is also unclear why national Security Advisor [Susan] Rice stated, on the day after he was released, that Sgt. Bergdahl had “served the United States with honor and distinction. Rice made those remarks to George Stephanopoulos last June on ABC’s This Week. “The point is he’s back. He’s going to be safely reunited with his family,” Rice asserted at the time.
‘He served the United States with honor and distinction and we’ll have the opportunity, eventually, to learn what has transpired in the past years, but what’s most important now is his health and well-being. That he has the opportunity to recover in peace and security and be reunited with his family, which is why this is such a joyous day.’
Still, the State Department is standing by the decision to make the swap with the Taliban. “Was it worth it? Absolutely,” department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told Megyn Kelly on The Kelly File Wednesday. “We have a commitment to our men and women serving in the military, defending our national security every day, that we’re going to do everything to bring them home if we can, and that’s what we did in this case.”
But many in Congress have been critical of the swap, including Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. “We said at the time that that swap, in and of itself, would now put a price tag on the head of every American abroad,” Rubio said in January.