Professionalism/The Case of Bowe Bergdahl


Sgt. Bowe BergdahlEdit

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is a US Army Soldier who was held captive by the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan from June 2009 to May 2014. Bergdahl walked off of his base at OP Mest June 2009 in an attempt to create a DUSTWUN (Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown) to catch the attention of the US Army. During his attempt to walk to FOB Sharana, the Taliban discovered his location and captured him. He was quickly moved to Pakistan where the Army would not be able to search for him without invading a country the US is at peace with. He was released May 2014 in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees, a subject of much controversy in the US. He is scheduled to be tried on general court-martial on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

Lt. Col. Clint BakerEdit

Lieutenant Colonel Clint Baker was the Battalion Commander of the 501st Infantry Regiment, Bergdahl's battalion. [1]

Soon after being stationed in Afghanistan, Bergdahl became very concerned about several of the orders Lt. Col. Baker was giving. On May 17, 2009, Bergdahl and the rest of his platoon were sent to Omnah to recover a disabled Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle. The mission was only supposed to take eight hours, so the soldiers did not pack enough gear such as shaving kits. When they found the MRAP, they realized the axle had been broken. The vehicle was beyond repair, but it also couldn't be left to fall into enemy hands. The soldiers had trouble communicating the situation to their commanding officers. Even though a mechanic explained, "'The truck is blown up. We can't fix it'", the commanding officers radioed back that the soldiers needed to stay until it was recovered. The soldiers stayed there with few supplies, no change of clothes, and no shaving kits for six days. What concerned Bergdahl the most was what happened when they returned. Lt. Col. Baker reprimanded the soldiers as soon as they got back to the wire gate at the base. "'What? You couldn't shave?'" said Baker. Bergdahl did not witness Baker say this personally, he only heard this from hearsay evidence. Bergdahl expected Baker to congratulate them on a job well done and ask about how they were doing. This account of Baker's welcome infuriated Bergdahl and stuck with him. Bergdahl interpreted this as a severe lack of concern for the well-being of the men. But this was not Bergdahl's only source of concern.

In late May 2009, Bergdahl and a few other men were ordered to dig a foxhole and fortify it on a hilltop near the base. That day was particularly hot and there was no shade to escape the heat. While digging, Bergdahl radioed down to one of his commanders to ask if they could remove some of their gear while they worked. The response was "that as long as they were working on digging, it should be fine." A photographer with the platoon snapped a photo of the men out of uniform and published it. This made the commander, Lt. Col. Baker, look bad and he also saw it as showing lack of respect and dangerous. He again reprimanded Bergdahl and the other soldiers.

These, and a few smaller instances, drove Bergdahl to action. He didn't trust the chain of command so he decided to go down another route to fix the problems he saw by creating a DUSTWUN.


Bergdahl's ReasoningEdit

Bergdahl felt no one at his post would be able to solve the problems he saw and felt it was necessary to speak to a general, thus he would have to head to another base. “All’s I was seeing was basically leadership failure, to the point where the lives of the guys standing next to me were — literally from what I could see — in danger of something seriously going wrong and somebody being killed,” Bergdahl says in an interview. In the same interview Berdahl later says, “I was trying to prove to the world … that I was capable of being that person … me saying I am like Jason Bourne. … I could be what it is that all those guys out there who go to the movies … They all want to be that, but I wanted to prove that I was that.”

He knew that the region was crawling with insurgents, but he had “outsize impressions of his own capabilities,” according to an investigating officer, and was determined to create enough chaos to get the attention of senior commanders.

Personality DisorderEdit

On Bergdahl's return to the United Stase, he was diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder at the time of the offenses, according to a document released by his defense team on The Bergdahl Docket. After his return, he was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. According to Mayo Clinic, Schizotypal personality disorder is characterized by:

  • Being a loner and lacking close friends outside of the immediate family
  • Incorrect interpretation of events, such as a feeling that something which is actually harmless or inoffensive has a direct personal meaning
  • Peculiar, eccentric or unusual thinking, beliefs or mannerisms
  • Dressing in peculiar ways, such as appearing unkempt or wearing oddly matched clothes
  • Belief in special powers, such as mental telepathy or superstitions
  • Unusual perceptions, such as sensing an absent person's presence or having illusions
  • Persistent and excessive social anxiety
  • Peculiar style of speech, such as vague or unusual patterns of speaking, or rambling oddly during conversations
  • Suspicious or paranoid thoughts and constant doubts about the loyalty of others
  • Flat emotions or limited or inappropriate emotional responses

Many of these are possibly evident in Bergdahl's actions and could explain how he might have interpreted the events leading up to his decision to walk off the base. As a loner, Bergdahl might have lacked the connection with his unit that could have allowed him to communicate more effectively with them his frustrations and concerns; it also might explain how Bergdahl was able to break the cardinal rule of the military in leaving his unit and betraying his comrade's trust and sense of unity. Bergdahl definitely had suspicious and paranoid thoughts and constant doubts about the loyalty of others, especially Lt. Col. Baker.

In 2006, Bergdahl was also discharged from the Coast Guard guard for psychological reasons, but the Coast Guard did not alert the Army about it when Bergdahl was admitted to the Army. Normally such an event is a red flag and would require a waiver from the Army in order to enlist; such an event would be included in a wide variety of bars to enlistment that require waivers as the Pentagon believes certain things, such as legal problems or health issues, could cause recruits to not perform well. This would have been especially relevant in the case of soldiers stationed in active terrorist zones in Afghanistan.

TalibanEdit

To recover Bergdahl from the Taliban, the United States traded the Taliban Five for Bergdahl. The Taliban Five were five long-term Afghan detainees at Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The detainees were high-ranking members of the Taliban government of Afghanistan. John McCain contends that the detainees were high risk to the United States, and the trade provoked controversy nationwide as it was seen as negotiating with terrorists.

Media and PublicEdit

On May 31, 2014, President Obama spoke on Bowe Bergdahl's return in the White House Rose Garden, celebrating Bergdahl's return. Later in an interview, President Obama's national security advisor said that Bergdahl served with "honor and distinction"; however, soldiers in Bergdahl's unit believed he deserted, saying it was "premeditated" and he "should not be characterized as serving with honor and distinction." They believed he deserved to be put on trial when he returned, and have admitted to deciding to kill him if they had found him.

Bergdahl's hometown planned a homecoming party to welcome him home upon news of his release but had to cancel it after the police determined the threats of violence from protesters would make the event too dangerous.


Soldiers of His UnitEdit

In a Fox News interview, Bergdahl's former platoon team react to Bergdahl's release. They contend that Bergdahl deserted, possibly to meet the Taliban.

Some of Bergdahl's platoon mates admitted to wanting to kill him after they realized he had walked off. Bergdahl shattered the strong bond that soldiers develop in training and war zones, which is essential to the safety of every member and can be stronger than family ties. It allows the soldiers to trust each other with their lives. When Bergdahl walked off, the rest of the soldiers didn't know who they could trust. While the animosity towards Bergdahl has died down, many of the soldiers will never be able to forgive him.

Court MartialEdit

On December 14, 2015, the US Army decided to take Bergdahl's case to a general court martial. He is charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. If found guilty, he could receive a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. On December 22, Bergdahl entered no plea during the initial hearing. The trial date will be in August 2016 and will be held in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Ethical questionsEdit

Is Bergdahl at fault for his behavior, given his personality disorder and those who failed to notify the Army of it?

Does he deserve more punishment, or were his five years as a Taliban prisoner, filled with violent torture, demoralizing humiliation, sleep deprivation, isolation, starvation, and other mental/emotional torture punishment enough?

What could Bowe have done instead? Some of his actions can attribute the term "whistleblower" to him, is he one?

ReferencesEdit