When Bowe Bergdahl was first released, the administration’s line seemed to be that he had suffered enough as a Taliban prisoner, and thus that the U.S. would not likely punish him as a deserter even if that’s what he turned out to be. But as the deal came in for strong criticism and evidence mounted as to Bergdahl’s betrayal, the line changed.
We were assured by the military that Bergdahl’s conduct would be investigated and, if misconduct were found, he would be subject to the military justice system. In the meantime, we should withhold judgment.
But Bill Otis predicts that, regardless of the facts (which so far point unambiguously to the conclusion that Bergdahl deserted), Bergdahl will never face a military trial because President Obama will pardon him. Bill, who worked on presidential pardons in the last days of the Bush 41 administration, has even drafted a statement to accompany the pardon (see below). It’s written in perfect Obamaese, which should worry those of us who are close to Bill.
I tend to agree with Bill’s prediction, though. The advantages to Obama of pardoning Bergdahl seem overwhelming. With no court martial, there will be no investigation into Bergdahl’s conduct which, in addition to desertion, may include collaboration with the Taliban whom he sought out so earnestly after abandoning his unit. And there will be no investigation into the causal link between Bergdahl’s walkabout and the deaths of American soldiers who went looking for him.
Finally, and crucially, by short-circuiting an investigation, Obama will likely prevent us from learning how much he knew (or should have known) about Bergdahl’s conduct and its impact on American lives before he decided to release five Taliban commanders in exchange for the deserter.
Here is Bill’s pitch perfect rendition of the anticipated pardon announcement:
America is winding down its longest war. It has exacted a terrible price on our nation, our ally Afghanistan, and the people of that country and ours. While America’s motives were good and our cause urgent after the attacks of 9-11, there have also been deeply troubling episodes. Surveillance procedures in our country and abroad have not always honored civil liberties, and the incarceration and interrogation of some enemy fighters have not lived up to what we, as a people, stand for.
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was one of the thousands of brave Americans who volunteered to defend us. He was young at the time, barely into his twenties. He came from wholesome values, and was thrust from a small town in Idaho into an a dangerous, frightening and alien world.
Like so many at home, over time he came to question America’s role in the war. It is one of the great hallmarks of our country that, while our military men and women respect and adhere to a discipline not expected of those in civilian life, they do not leave behind their freedom of conscience.
Even after all this time, we do not know exactly what led Sgt. Bergdahl into his five years of cruel captivity. It’s clear that he left his post, plainly a wrong decision. He’s a young man, perhaps a troubled one, and young, troubled people make mistakes, sometimes very serious ones.
But that is no longer the point. Our country should embrace two far more important points: That the future awaits, hoping to live free of the encumbrances of the past; and that the kind of people we are beckons us more urgently than any mistakes Sgt. Bergdahl may have made. It’s time for a compassionate country to allow Bowe Bergdahl to move on with what we all hope will be a productive life.
Even more important, however, it’s time for America to move on with its life. It is not merely compassion but prudence that counsels us to try to come together. And we have the past as our guide. After the terribly divisive and painful war in Vietnam, our country pardoned those who had not fulfilled their military obligations. This helped us pave the way for national reconciliation, and for an era of great progress and prosperity in the generation that followed, as the Soviet Union fell, freedom flourished around the world, and opportunity grew here at home as never before.
The key to moving into a better future is letting go of the bitterness and divisions of the past. To help our country do that, I am announcing today that I am pardoning Sgt. Bergdahl for any conduct related to or following his departure from his military post in Afghanistan in 2009.
As Bill says, it’s all there: opportunism burlesquing compassion; politics impersonating statesmanship; evasion supplanting accountability; contempt aping patriotism; and platitudinous, old fashioned blather.
Who would bet that Obama doesn’t end up uttering something close to these words?