Did Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl go AWOL?
For now, the story for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is one of physical and mental recovery and reunion with his family.
But very soon it will involve debriefings about the nearly five years of his captivity by Taliban fighters, who apparently held him in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where his infantry unit had been engaged in combat.
Military and intelligence experts will want to know how he was treated, anything he can tell them about his captors, and what he learned about insurgent capabilities.
For the young soldier — 23 when he became a prisoner of war — those debriefings will include difficult questions about how and why he happened to be in a position where he fell into the hands of the Taliban.
There have been no reports that he was captured during direct combat, that the “fog of war” put him involuntarily in a vulnerable location.
At this point in the developing narrative, it seems Bergdahl had grown disillusioned with the Afghanistan mission, bitter about the Army and especially higher-ranking enlisted men and officers, and simply walked off — “outside the wire” or protective base limits — and disappeared.
If he, in fact, went AWOL — Absence Without Leave, which is referred to as “Unauthorized Absence” — Bergdahl could be charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
This scenario — it's important to note that it has not been confirmed — is based on detailed reporting in 2012 by Rolling Stone magazine, which included interviews with his fellow soldiers and apparently lengthy conversations with his parents in Idaho, who shared emails they exchanged with him up until his disappearance.
“The US army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at,” he wrote from Afghanistan. “It is the army of liars, backstabbers, fools, and bullies. The few good SGTs are getting out as soon as they can, and they are telling us privates to do the same.”
“I am sorry for everything here,” Bergdahl wrote at another point. “These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live.”
In his final message, Bergdahl refers to having mailed home boxes with his uniforms and books.
“Feel free to open them, and use them,” he wrote.
Later that night, Bergdahl's father, Bob, a UPS truck driver, sent his son an email from their home in Hailey, Idaho, with the subject line: OBEY YOUR CONSCIENCE! “Dear Bowe,” he wrote. “In matters of life and death, and especially at war, it is never safe to ignore ones' conscience. Ethics demands obedience to our conscience. It is best to also have a systematic oral defense of what our conscience demands. Stand with like minded men when possible. dad.”
“Ordinary soldiers, especially raw recruits facing combat for the first time, respond to the horror of war in all sorts of ways,” Rolling Stone observed. Bergdahl “decided to walk away.”
Not surprisingly, the issue has stirred considerable discussion and debate.
“Though Americans may be celebrating the release of the only American soldier held prisoner in Afghanistan by the Taliban, the reaction of the military community has been mixed at best,” Army Times reports.
“Within an hour of the announcement that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. special forces by the Taliban Saturday evening, Army Times' Facebook page lit up with hundreds of comments reacting to the news,” the publication reported.
One Army Times Facebook visitor wrote: “I'm happy for the Bergdahl family and friends to have their loved one home, but I am angered deeply at Bowe. It disgusts me greatly that a man that turned his back on his brothers, unit, and country is going to be hailed as a hero/saint.”
Another post summed up the situation this way: “This guy may have made a tremendously bad decision, but I'm willing to bet that what he's endured since then has been far worse than anything the US or military judicial system would have imposed. Have some heart.”