Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Negotiating With Terrorists: The Counterpoint

This article is a follow-up to my previous piece, the widely shared Negotiating With Terrorists.

6/7/14: Addendum at the end of the post.


“The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”
      ― Muhammed Ali


We are the sum of our parts.

Our memories and our experiences shape who we are and, more importantly, how we see the world.

By definition, our worldview tends to change over time. That malleable viewpoint is influenced by a thousand things: friends and enemies and the indifferent, marriage, children, information both true and false, trauma, stress, grief, joy, depression, hope, rage, hate, love, education, reason, to name but a few.

Age often lends a certain perspective, not always, but often.

Sometimes that perspective can completely change who we are – sometimes we call that wisdom. Or not.

Sometimes we change ourselves. We don’t like who we are, and so we deliberately become someone else – ask any recovering alcoholic if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Or a born again Christian. Or a scrawny kid like me who joined the military and set out to prove something to himself. Sometimes it’s involuntary, driven by outside forces and influences – have a chat with veteran about PTSD if you need an example. And sometimes that change comes willie-nillie as we careen happily assbackward into the unknown.

And sometimes, well, sometimes life just hardens who we are.

It’s different for each of us.

When I was young, a teenager, just before I enlisted for the first time, a group of radical Islamists overthrew the Shah of Iran and took sixty-six American diplomats and their staff hostage from the US Embassy in Tehran.  For four hundred and forty-four days those men and women were held captive while we Americans seethed in impotent rage.

I was young then, true, but I don’t remember America hating Muslims before that. When I was a kid, the terrorists who committed endless atrocities came from Belfast – and the money to support their cause, along with the money to fight them, came from right here in America and I knew other kids whose parents were on both sides of the fight. Those Irishmen were terrorists, but we didn’t hate them – but then they weren’t attacking us either, so maybe that’s the difference.

They were killing our friends though, so then again maybe it’s something else.

Afterward, after the revolution in Iran, and then the bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut a few years later, it was the Arabs who were terrorists – and they’ve remained so ever since.

And we often hate them.

And maybe some of them have earned it.

The Iranian Hostage Crisis came to define the Carter Presidency and I, like many other Americans, despised the President for not doing something, anything, to get our people back.  Arabs, they’re just a bunch of goat herders, towelheads, my naive 18-year old self thought. Just park a nuclear aircraft carrier off the coast and land the Marines! That’ll scare the dirty sons of bitches! Show ‘em who they’re messing with!  Christ, Jimmy Carter, what a damned pussy! Why doesn’t this guy do something? 

And, of course, when we finally did do something a year into the crisis, the rescue mission – Operation Eagle Claw – crashed and burned in the Iranian Desert and eight American servicemen died. A half dozen more were badly injured. Two multi-million dollar aircraft were destroyed and five more were abandoned to the Iranians – along with the hostages.

It was … shameful.

And that too I blamed on Carter’s incompetence, and I was so goddamned glad to be rid of him when Ronald Reagan took the White House.

But, time, you see, does tend to temper the heat of youthful passion and lend one that perspective I mentioned up above.

Three decades later, almost all of which was spent in military service, in so-called peace and in war and in everything in between (a significant fraction of which was spent within spitting distance of that self-same Iran), and I tend to view things far differently. You see, unlike that na├»ve 18-year old kid, the me of today, the experienced US Navy Chief Warrant Officer, me, I know what it would have taken to pull off that rescue – especially in 1980, with the limited technology and the rusting post-Vietnam equipment and the general state of the US Military. I know in endless detail. I know the troops and the equipment and the weapons and the comms and the terrain and most especially I know the intelligence problem, because that was my job. I know the politics, and that too was my job. Hell, I served with men who were there, in the desert that night in 1980, watching helplessly as their comrades died in fire. 

Because of that and many other things, I’ve come to view the Carter Administration in a very different light and I shake my head now in sympathy at the impossible situation, at the hate and the rage and the uninformed criticism the president faced – including my own scorn – in addition to the terrible tactical, strategic, economic, and political problems.


And so, here we are.


Two days ago I wrote Negotiating With Terrorists.

On the surface, that essay is about the return of an American prisoner of war, Bowe Bergdahl.

But underneath, the article is really about the same socio-political themes I commonly address, hate, fear, political insanity, reflexive unreason, hysterical punditry, division for profit, and empty patriotism.

The article appears to have struck a nerve.

Negotiating With Terrorists went viral. It continues to go viral. It’s not yet the most widely read or shared thing I’ve ever written, but it’s getting there.

As with everything nowadays, Americans are deeply divided on this issue because it seems we must lately line up on either side of any issue no matter how great or how trivial and scream reflexive hatred at each other. And again, like everything else, that division tends to the extremes and my email today reflects that in spades.

Over all, most of those messages are positive, tens of thousands of people agree enthusiastically with what I wrote. But many emphatically do not – and that hatemail, and it is hate mail, is pretty damned toxic indeed. Here are a few samples:

fuck go fuck yourself fucking ass coward i fucking hope your scum ass licker fucking dies people like you make me fucking puke!!


Liberals are cowards one and all just like the author of this hatchet job. Obviously he has never served. Coward.

Let me be the first to say GFY! [Go Fuck Yourself] … I feel sorry for anybody who had to serve under your traitorous command.

you are a liar! Borg.dum is a fuckin muzzie traitor! That is a FACT. He walked away from his post and left Americans to die and that is indisputable fact. hell ya leave him to die! He is not an American you are wrong about that stonehead.

And these are the more, intelligent, ones.

Nothing in the hundreds of hate comments that attempted to post here on Stonekettle Station, nothing in the thousand plus emails I’ve received in the last two days, none of the pundits, not Rush, not Glenn, not Ann, not Sarah, not Sean, none of the politicians most especially John McCain nor Ted Cruz, nothing has convinced me that I was in any way wrong in my analysis yesterday. If anything, I take it as validation of my initial premise.


But then I got a letter from a Marine.


He is a United States Marine Corps Captain, recently returned from his second tour in Afghanistan. He disagreed with my article. But, and here’s the thing so pay attention, the Captain’s letter was polite, respectful as in one peer to another, firm in its opinion, intelligent, thoughtful, reasoned, did not engage in personal attacks, and was written in a clear and concise manner. And he signed his name to the bottom of it. 

In other words, exactly what I would expect from a Marine.

There is a reason why Marines have commanded respect the world over for more than 200 years, and it’s not just their pretty faces and unmatched fighting ability.

The Captain asked me if I would retract or edit Negotiating With Terrorists.

I told him no.  But not because I didn’t consider it. Because you see this Marine brought me forcefully back to where I began here today, and that is this: We are the sum of our experiences.

And despite the fact that I spent two and half decades in uniform and served in this war, my experience is emphatically not the Captain’s. 

Nor is it that of the soldiers who served alongside Bowe Bergdahl.

I knew this, I acknowledged it the previous essay:

Certainly, some of Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers say he deserted. That he was disillusioned with the war, with America, that he left his guard post and walked away into the desert in some foolish and quixotic attempt to reach China.  They say that men, good men, real heroes, died searching for Bergdahl after he disappeared.

And those soldiers, they’d probably know, wouldn’t they?

And, yeah, if I was one of them I’d be damned resentful too and I have no doubt whatsoever that I’d use this blog to protest those who would attempt to paint Bergdahl as a hero – if I knew for certain that he deserted, if I’d lost friends searching for him.

I don’t begrudge those soldiers one iota of their resentment, they earned it with their own blood.

And I meant that, sincerely.

But in retrospect it’s clear to me that I wasn’t expansive enough.

And I know this because some misguided people attempted to use my essay, my words, to school a Marine Captain who had just returned from the war zone.

These people attempted to use my experience to discredit his.

This was never my intention. Never. And I find it as unacceptable as he did.

Now listen carefully: what I said was that those aforementioned pundits, the usual cast of hatemongers and their like-minded politicians, are doing their usual dance – and that dance is motivated by hate, pure and simple. Hate is profitable and they’ve refined it to a fine art.

What I did not say, what I specifically did not say, was that I thought the soldiers mentioned in that paragraph above were to be painted with the same brush. I didn’t say it, because I don’t think it and you damned well shouldn’t either. And the next time you attempt to use my words to chastise a Marine, I’d be honored to hold his hat while he explains to you the folly of your ways.

We are the sum of our experiences.

Those Soldiers, those Marines, those Sailors, those Airmen, and those Guardsmen are fully entitled to their resentment.  It is possible that like my own example above, thirty years from now they may view things differently – or maybe they won’t.  There are those veterans from Vietnam who have forgiven Jane Fonda, and there others who wouldn’t piss on her only if she happened to be fully engulfed in flames. Both are entitled to their opinions, they earned that right with their own blood and Fonda can live with the Goddamned consequences of her own actions.

Just as Bergdahl will.

I told the Captain that I could not retract my article, instead what I would do is give him (and by extension those he had led and those who had served alongside Bowe Bergdahl) a platform. 

And that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Right now. You read my words, now read his. I want you to read this warrior’s words, every one of them. You don’t have to agree with him, but you need to see the situation through a Marine’s eyes, though the eyes of those who wear the uniform and who stand into danger with steadfast devotion.

We are the sum of our experiences, this is his:

With Bergdahl’s return we have the expected torrent of screaming from all sides. Would to God that Americans could learn again to have dignity and discuss their viewpoints without vitriol. Or at least value silence. Left and Right. This Bergdahl issue is one that a small sliver of our population has any real business speaking about: Uniformed service-people.

Recent conversations have highlighted three misconceptions, at least from my perspective as a twice deployed Marine Captain, that the media is broadcasting in this prisoner transfer case: That Bergdahl was a POW, that the trade-off was empathetic, and that disagreeing with this process is somehow political.

On both my deployments to Afghanistan we were all briefed thoroughly on this guy. We were to keep an eye out and ask around about him, even in Helmand. From intel collection they learned that he apparently got upset with Army life and walked off his camp one night. He sought out the Taliban and aligned himself with them. Our understanding was that he may have taught them US weapons, IED making, and tactics. That’s called not only desertion, but aiding and abetting the enemy. Not a prisoner taken against his will. You will note, he was never designated a POW. There is a reason.

From current conversations with my intel connections, it seems we knew where this guy has been for some time. But since he originally cost at least 6 lives by being a little ****, the vote was that he did not rate any more American blood. We all swore the same oath… the enormous majority kept ours. Bergdahl broke his and cost lives.

However, he needed to come back at some point to face the consequences or homecoming, whatever was appropriate. We go through great lengths to salvage our dead, even if just their souls are dead. Like all good things in life, such sensitivities take timing and precision. What is so maddening about this from a military standpoint is that we traded the Himmler posse of Afghanistan for a guy who willingly went and joined our enemy and contributed to at least the deaths of 6 of his comrades. It’s like “Tommy Boy Does Foreign Policy”. The 5 Taliban leaders are evil. Suicide belt on Down’s syndrome kid evil. Bombing school buses evil. Digging eyes out of skulls with a spoon evil. And they will continue to wage their jihad on the Afghans that my people worked too hard to set up for success. And if the Taliban has any sense (and they do) these 5 guys will start up Jihad SERE School 2.0. That makes this trade seem not so much based on empathy. It seems amateur. It seems like ineptitude. In the real world of blood and loss, the end result is important just as long as the process doesn’t totally undermine it. Like a pyrrhic victory. These concerns are not partisan. Or maybe these guys are implanted with revenge which will come later.

Every young person in uniform has been told at one time or another, “Good initiative, bad judgment”. Would that a kindly entity could put his arm around certain decision makers and frankly state such as a mentoring opportunity. This trade will be looked at as a giant victory to our enemies--- the real jihadist network. Why is that important? PR. Their information operations for the next few seasons is set. By us. They succeed as long as they can convince young and aspiring jihadists that they can make the US wilt. It deepens the impression that the administration is way over its head. Which is why there exist things like war committees in Congress, who legally should have been included in this decision but were bypassed. Again: the appearance of ineptitude. If not heard a single person in uniform begrudge Bergdahl his return. There are exponential WFTs as to the process, however.

And to answer a previous question about the value of a US serviceman because he’s a serviceman: If I were to walk off from my trusted place of duty, join the enemy, and conspire to kill my brothers, how many Taliban would I be worth? Exactly zero. Honor and duty still trump platitudes and dishonor earns magnificent violence.

We have rescue forces second to none in the world. By a long shot. If we desired, we could have pulled him out. We’ve known where he was, down to the number of guys guarding him. Our true professionals could have done some great work there. What didn’t need to happen is that we give back major chess pieces who return to a hero’s welcome and trade high-value targets for low-value propositions. In the end it will not be people at Paypal, Dell, or ATK who will bear the brunt of this. It’ll be my brothers and sisters in the Marines, Navy, and Army. And there will be blood.

I’m about to freeze the comments on Negotiating With Terrorists, I think that conversation has run its course, and I’m going to close here with this:

I stand by what I wrote, but what I wrote isn’t the whole story.

Part of the remainder was described to you by a Marine Captain. And there is more to come.  There are legitimate questions that need to be answered, some of those by President Obama, some by his detractors in Congress, and a great deal more by Bowe Bergdahl himself. 

Six brave men died getting Bowe Bergdahl home. Five dangerous men went free. You must never forget that, that was the cost of Bowe Bergdahl’s freedom.

But, we don’t leave our people behind.

Consider however what the Captain said, more may die as a consequence of what it took to make good on that sacred promise, and that, my fellow Americans, that is the price you will pay.

The question will always be: was he worth it?

Was it worth the price we had to pay? But that’s always the question, isn’t it? In war the price is always, always terrible and this is part of it, right here.

Was he worth it?

I don’t know the answer to that.

I think those who love Bowe Bergdahl would say that he was indeed worth the price, and more.

But I suspect the six Gold Star Mothers of those men who died chasing after Bergdahl would say something different – and in point of fact I don’t have to guess, I read their outrage yesterday when my words were linked to their sorrow.

Was it worth it?

I don’t know, but let me ask you this: if, if, Bergdahl is tried and found innocent, then don’t we as a nation owe it to those dead men to finish what they started?  And if Bergdahl is guilty, then don’t we owe it to those self same dead heroes, those men who came of their own free will and gave of themselves the last full measure of devotion, and don’t we owe it to all the living ones who like the Captain, like me, served our country honorably and stood steadfast by our duty, don’t we owe it to ourselves to bring Bergdahl home to account for his sins? Don’t we?

Was he worth it?

I have no idea.

Look me up in thirty years, maybe I’ll know then.



Addendum 1:

I’m disappointed.

I expected more of my readership.

I asked you see the situation through a soldier’s eyes. Instead some of you have resorted to the same kneejerk blinkered responses you accuse the Captain of and you’ve missed the point of this follow-up. I wrote it the way I did for a reason. I’d like you to go back and read it again, carefully, dispassionately this time. And let’s leave the conspiracy theories regarding the military chain of command at home this time.

I asked you to look at this from a different viewpoint for a reason, and I expected those of you who know me, who read me on a regular basis, to think about what I said.

Something a lot of you are missing, especially those of you who lack military command experience: the Captain’s position, and that of his superiors, makes perfect tactical sense. 

They had to assume the worst case scenario.

They had to assume Bergdahl was compromised. And until they have proof otherwise, they must continue to assume so – they must assume that Bergdahl gave up what he knew to his captors, tactics, techniques, intel, routines, routes, all of it. Whether you assume that Bergdahl gave it up willingly or under torture or because of Stockholm syndrome or whatever, you have to assume that he did give it up.

Anything else is irresponsible. 

I’ve told you over and over, war is dirty and immoral and fucking horrible, this, right here, is part of it.

The Captain’s, and that of his chain of command, are the only correct viewpoint for military leaders in their position.

The Captain has to assume that the enemy has his playbook, anything else gets his Marines killed.

Debriefing of Bergdahl will take years and may show that he didn’t give up anything of value, or it may not

Which is why I directly implied that the Captain may feel differently in the future, when the memories and the heat of war have faded, and the true situation is known.

Or he may not – even if history eventually shows that Bergdahl isn’t a deserter.

And if Bergdahl is a deserter, it may be that thirty years from now he, Bergdahl, will come to regret his actions – which is why I deliberately mentioned Jane Fonda who now deeply regrets hers. And while those regrets don’t change the facts, they may temper how others view the events of history.  And if that’s so, it may change the Captain’s position.  Someday.  Or, should it go the other way, it may change mine. Someday.

Or not.

Which is why I ended the piece with the line I did.

The Captain has good reason to believe the way he does, unlike the raging pundits and politicians mentioned in the previous piece.

You, I hope, can find a place of reason in between.


Addendum 2:

A lot has been made about whether or not the six soldiers who died in the aftermath of Bergdahl’s disappearance specifically died looking for Bergdahl.

I find this utterly unnecessary argument distasteful.  

Those men died in the performance of their duties. 

They died in the service of their sworn oath. 

They died in the service of their country. 

They died in a foreign land, in a war zone, wearing the uniform of the United States of America.

Whether they were out there under orders to specifically look for Bergdahl or not, they were still looking for him.

Those six dead men, along with all the others who fell in this shitty war, are indeed the price we Americans paid.  They are the price Bergdahl’s unit paid. They’re the price Bergdahl paid, intentionally or not.

Watching those dead soldiers’ bodies be dragged through the streets of the media by self-serving politicians and media pundits and the shouting mob on both sides of the aisle disgusts me.

Here at least, I’d appreciate it if you’d show those dead men the respect they deserve.


A note about commenting: Comments are in full moderation and will remain so until further notice. I’m not going to reemphasize the commenting rules, you’re suppose to be an adult, act like one. If you behave like a child, your comment will not post. //Jim


  1. At this point, this puzzles me. It's been reported that they'd been negotiating over this guy for more than a year. If this is true *and* they thought he was a traitor, *and* knew where he was, why didn't they go get him? And why was he promoted repeatedly after leaving? As eloquent as this guy is... this doesn't add up, for me.

    1. Zapster,

      As for promotion, you remain on an automatic promotion cycle until you are convicted, relieved, or so on. Since we didn't have Bergdahl in hand, the promotions would have kept coming.

      That is what makes "Captain America" so hard to watch. By the time he came out of the ice, he would have probably been "4 Star General America" ;)

      But seriously: America tries to function by way of rule of law. The military justice system is actually quite refined and works rather well. I know... I am part of that machine.

    2. I will speculate without having direct knowledge of the matter but I believe that the reason "we" didn't go get him once we knew where he was, was because since intelligence had a fix on him and knew the circumstances by which he had gotten there, the risk/cost to retrieve Bergdahl by force at that point in time was considered too high, especially after already losing six soldiers trying to get to him. I've read the statements of a Congressman saying that potential drone strikes in the area where he was being kept were closely reviewed in order to avoid putting him at risk, too. The US gave up an awful lot to get Bergdahl back compared to what he gave up to get away.

    3. I say this with the ultimate respect to the Marine Captain and the author of this piece.

      But I have only read of reports...I have only read of people telling me reports of this that or the other thing. I have not see the evidence myself, not has it been published for public scrutiny.

      I have not seen anyone, other than the aforementioned 5 men from his squad, talk about his alleged desertion. Mostly, I have seen them talk on television shows at the behest of a PR firm run by a guy who has, to say the least, an axe to grind against the administration and a dubious past himself. He has, in turn, given these men, "pro bonon services" (his words, not MINE) for their help in getting the word out.

      What I have not heard is anything from the other 30 or more members of his platoon. I have not heard form his Platoon Sergeant (who had better be an E-7 or better by now), his Platoon Leader (a 2LT or better) from his Company Commander or the First Sergeant. I have not heard anything except form these five men, who, I am sure are sincere, but, to be honest, I have watched two of them be interviewed and I am not convinced they know what happened or, more to the point, I think that they have replayed it all so many times, the details are so ingrained, they now believe what is fact now hwhat may have bene conjecture then. I wished to God above they were not ion the clutches of a PR firm known to be anathema to Obama and collecting benefits while doing so. It makes me feel yucky listening to them.

      Then, I read or heard somewhere about a letter SGT Bergdahl may have written before he left where he pretty much entails what he is doing and why. yet, that letter has never been produced and, to be honest, I do not thinl the Pentagon's initial investigation even mentions it. Yet, we are told it was there?

      Did Berghdahl write it? Did he? Let me ask you, in a published email, Bergdahl said that he was disllisioned withthe Army saying:

      "We don't even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks... We make fun of them in front of their faces, and laugh at them for not understanding we are insulting them."

      Maybe he had had enough of the lies, the backstabbing, the overt racism and the lack of leadership support? Maybe, in good conscience he left because he felt there was nowhere else for him to go?

      I don't pretend to know all the answers, but I can tell you, if he was that disgusted with the men he was serving with and they, quite obviously, were with him, is it too much to consider, even for a moment, some of this might be a frame job?

      There is still the matter of that letter, now missing, that the Pentagon never saw, but the men who say he wrote it.

      I wonder now, very deeply, WHY that is?

    4. I think it'd be worth it, as long as they put GPS trackers in these five guys' clothes / under their skin...

    5. To carry on further, to add to comments by Anon @ 4:17 PM....

      The decision to not call Bergdahl a POW was a cynical decision made during the years he was captive, in order to not cause the Taliban to want their Gitmo brethren designated as POWs too, which would give them Geneva Convention protection not heretofore granted.

      Apparently now that he's released, and the war winding down (and these Gitmo prisoners due to be released anyway this year or soon thereafter), that consideration isn't as important. The Marine Captain can take that for what it's worth.

      I'm concerned, of course, with the dissonance between what the Captain refers to as "intel collection" from the period he served and what has been dug up about Bergdahl's possible motivations by other sources. Was that "intel collection" from his platoon mates, specifically the ones talking to every RW blogger and media outlet? Those guys are a questionable bunch, if the late Michael Hastings' story in Rolling Stone is even halfway accurate.

      What does the Captain have to say about reports that say Bergdahl tried unsuccessfully twice to escape from his captors, who'd originally captured him within 24 hours of his leaving his platoon? What about the report that Bergdahl's enlistment Peace-Corps-like delusion possibly being the motivation for his AWOL, going walkabout "to help the Afghan people"?

      I have to admit, this part of the Captain's criticism is a bit sketchy: "Our understanding was that he may have taught them US weapons, IED making, and tactics" -- sounds more like the fever dream of a "Colonel Miles Quaritch". I'm guessing that if he and his captors were so inclined, THEY taught HIM. Wasn't he only in country for only 2+ months before he was captured?

      All in all, we're each entitled to our opinion. I imagine some soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan have pretty strong feelings about this, and further investigation by some of this country's best investigative reporters might not even sway their opinion. I have mine, and I think the Captain should wait like me and the rest of saner America for the military investigation, a tribunal if warranted, and a verdict if necessary rather than being the jury in the court of public opinion that's already branded Bergdahl with the mark of Cain.

    6. Adding to comments by Anonymous June 5, 2014 at 4:17 PM, also with utmost respect to our Marine Captain.

      To be honest, given the level of bs masquerading as discourse in this country, when I heard about the soldiers, I wondered if it was another case of swiftboating.

      The good captain may be 100% correct, but it is also possible that he doesn't have all the details. (what's that joke about being kept in the dark and fed on excrement?).

      What I want to see is for this to be properly handled. Trying it in the court of public opinion is not how to properly handle it. I will reserve judgement until the facts are out. If Bergdahl deserted and aided the enemy, let him face the consequences. If not, let him live his life in peace. Either way, I'm glad he's safely home.

    7. The 2012 Rolling Stone piece on Bergdahl presents some insight on why most of his unit likely hasn't spoken up to date...


      In what appears to be an unprecedented move, the Pentagon also scrambled to shut down any public discussion of Bowe. Members of Bowe's brigade were required to sign nondisclosure agreements as part of their paperwork to leave Afghanistan. The agreement, according to Capt. Fancey, forbids them to discuss any "personnel recovery" efforts – an obvious reference to Bowe.

  2. So now your blog becomes the most dignified place of discussion on this matter. That speaks volumes on just how disconnected,hateful, and politicized the rest of what we're hearing comes across. There is more to this story for certain. And I appreciate you including this Marine's point of view as part of it. Gracious with a capital G, Dignified with a capital D.

    1. Yes. What Ruth said. A calm, reasoned, and varied-viewpoint discussion is just what's needed. The Marine's comment "Would to God that Americans could learn again to have dignity and discuss their viewpoints without vitriol. Or at least value silence. Left and Right" is SO on-point.

      Thank you.

    2. Thank you, Jim. Thank you, Ruth. Dignity. Integrity. Intelligence. Discussion rather than ad hominem attack. How refreshing...

      Gracious and Dignified, indeed.

      Thank you, thank you, thank you...

    3. It's dignified because JW doesn't put up with BS from the haters or trolls.

    4. This, Jim, this piece above all, shows how essential reading Stonekettle Station is. It is a place where those of differing viewpoints may come together, hear what others have to say, respectfully agree/disagree with them and form an intelligent opinion. I can't count how many times I've changed my perspective or opinion based on what I have read here, whether posted by you or a fellow commenter.

      I still don't exactly know how I feel about about Mr. Bergdahl. I don't know enough to construct an informed opinion. But I must acknowledge your honesty and integrity for giving the Marine Captain, as well as anyone else with an open mind, a space to air their thoughts and, perhaps, educate us all. I wish that the rest of our media choices were as honorable, dignified and sensible as your blog.

      As usual, a large "Well done!" to you and those who share your site as a home of informed discussion. Thank you.

  3. There was a bit about this on the BBC news this morning, suggesting strongly that the Taliban would have had to be released *anyway* within the next year, as part of the demilitarisation of the situation in Afghanistan and the US withdrawal (it would have been different if they had been AlQaida), and that therefore this exchange was a good trade, as something was got in exchange for releasing people who would have been released pretty soon anyway for free.

    1. I heard and saw that same idea on multiple news platforms, though of course they could have simply been echoing each other. If true, then it does make sense that we arranged to get Bergdahl in exchange instead of simply letting those guys go for no gain in a few months.

      I also heard several news accounts say that the Obama administration had informed Congress of its interest in trading Gitmo prisoners for Bergdahl as long ago as 2012. Again, if true, while the timing may have come as a surprise to Congress, the fact of the trade should not have.

      I think the thing that makes me truly crazy is that this seems to be yet another case of the GOP politicizing something that doesn't need to be politicized, like Benghazi. Anything that lets them scream about the president's supposed incompetence seems to be fair game.

    2. Karen said "... yet another case of the GOP politicizing something that doesn't need to be politicized, like Benghazi. Anything that lets them scream about the president's supposed incompetence seems to be fair game." I believe that was a major part of the point of Jim's original post. Another example of "Obama Derangement Syndrome."

  4. There's a brave soul who does what you do, Jim. My humble congratulations on giving a voice to other side (not *the* other side, just other side) of the debate. The world at large is in need of more brave people like you. Thank you

  5. This, as most things these days, is not as simple as the talking heads of television nor the serial posters of Facebook and Twitter would have us believe. There is history, as you pointed out, that more or less was the proverbial straw that got Carter defeated and Reagan elected. He would fare better in the Iran Contra investigation than Carter did in that he and his vice-president both stayed in power. The views of those who have been on the ground and know of Bergdahl are of course more legitimate than those of the semi-informed commenters here in the safety of the United States.

    However, if we view the death of Osama Bin Laden, combined with this, along with the inability of the Obama Adminstration to either try or release those held in Gitmo (that he promised to close down once elected when running for President back in 2008 btw), we are left with the pieces of finally putting the debacle of 911 behind us as a country. Just as we finally "got over" Vietnam, this too will end. One day, the troops will be home from Afghanistan and Iraq and the death toll of innocent civilians in both countries will continue to rise as the fervent crazies continue to blow up whatever they can in the name of whatever it is they believe in...but we will not be exposing our military to them anymore. And, in the final analysis, whether Bergdahl is a traitor or simply someone who could no longer live a life he thought was a lie, he ultimately will become merely a footnote in a far larger story.

    911 hurt-we were attacked on our own soil pretty much for the 1st time since Pearl Harbor. And parts of our government failed us. Information gathered was not shared, or not identified as being important-because, after the fact, all of the pieces fit together more easily don't they? Logan Airport had some security issues and we as a nation paid dearly for them. Nonetheless, our government failed to protect us, and as a result, an administration either believed lies about Saddam Hussein and Iraq's complicity in the attacks or they had other nefarious reasons for taking out a dictator that resulted in destabilizing more than saving a country. And 13 years later, Bin Laden is dead, Iraq is a mess, and we are trying to get out of Afghanistan before we waste any more resources on a fight that's been over as far as most folks are concerned stateside for years.

    We must not forget the brave men and women who when sent to battle and later on to build infrastructure and to stabilize, did so to the best of their abilities. One hopes that history does not judge that their efforts were wasted in a misguided attempt to close the 911 barn door well after the horses had escaped. But, we must also examine, with a deeply flawed Congress, and an ideologically divided populace, what we as a nation can learn from all of this and how to prevent it from happening again in the near future.

    1. I'd hesitate to call it an "advantage", but the UK has never had a generation without people blowing things up in our actual country. No bombs landed on the US mainland in WW2 - even Pearl Harbour wasn't "at home" - whereas my mother went to 6 different primary schools as the went down one by one to German bombs. We then had the IRA (which as Jim mentions was part-funded from the US) shooting our police and soldiers and blowing things up - I know people who took damage. We then had Islamist terrorists. We were appalled by the death toll on 9/11, but the concept wasn't new, we had never had the illusion of being "safe at home", and foreign policy being something where the only domestic impact was on taxes and prices. In the US there seems to have been a feeling that everything changed that day. In the UK the feeling was that the change in US attitude was the real change, the rest was just a matter of scale.

    2. You can't lay the blame on Pres. Obama for not closing Gitmo; everything he has tried was blocked by Congress. Of course now that he has resorted in direct action the first words out are impeachment.

    3. Lena, how we Americans forget the continual bloodshed and mayhem in other countries by this or that group with a historical gripe. It's as if the US is the world's panic room, where immigrants go, close the door on the bloody past, and believe in safety forever. Sobering, upsetting stuff.

    4. @Penty Re: Gitmo-not really blaming Obama for this-there is a cluster foxtrot of prisoners held who have never been charged, others who have been charged but no US city will host their trials, etc. It indeed is a mess inherited from the Bush Administration-but one that the current administration hasn't yet figured out how to fix, and as such, one of the things that need to be resolved for the US to put this whole Iraq/Afghanistan affair to bed.

  6. *clap, clap, clap* Good job. I know that I'm not one to speak on this as I don't have an endless time to read up on it all and then I still would not have the full story... I appreciate you taking the high road and showing respect and humility and the "other side of the coin". Just another reason why I love where I live...it's the people who make this place, people like you. They are neither right nor left. They are themselves. Not bound by sides and willing to seek truth even if that means changing their mind. I know I have and I appreciate seeing the big picture not the narrow one the media chooses for me to see that day.

  7. Thoughtful piece, this young Marine may well have the truth of Berdahl's activities, or he may have been fed, through his Command, intelligence the Command received that was designed to intentionally mislead. We also apparently have some indication that he simply was captured in an unguarded moment in a latrine. We will hopefully find out the truth in the Investigation. Regardless, as the grand-daughter, daughter, niece, cousin, wife, and grandmother of 13 Veterans from all branches of the Services, I'm glad we got Bergdahl back.

  8. Do we really know six men died as a direct result of the hunt for Bergdahl? I thought that was still undetermined. That would have a bearing on my thinking about these events.

  9. Thank you, and thank you for the opposing information. As it happens, Tim Minchin has a song for this occasion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9soVrvBVTX8, offered with all sincere respect. Daddy told me that any idea that can fit fully into a nutshell probably belongs there, and that's why I read you -- your ideas don't.

    1. "any idea that can fit fully into a nutshell probably belongs there", Bruce, I think this will be one the list of mantras I love, right alongside "You can't reason with the unreasonable".

  10. The Token FrenchyJune 5, 2014 at 4:22 AM

    Well this blog is getting close to The Sandbox (Doonesbury) quality. Thx.

  11. I still think what you wrote before is valid; we don't throw our people to the enemy; nor leave them behind. I have no more facts re: the deaths of Bergdahl's comrades-in-arms, so I will remain quiet, and listen to those who will civilly discuss the situation over time. I will ignore the Bill O'Reilly's, who are hate-mongers lining their pockets. Thank you again, Mr. Wright, for the forthright conversation.

  12. With every one of your blogs I read it occurs to me that I really wish I had served with you. I don't know how we managed not to cross each others paths, but if I had been led by someone with your integrity I may have chosen to make a career of it. As it is I'm glad we crossed paths later in life, because you make the world a slightly less hostile and confusing place. Thank you for your leadership.

  13. I appreciate the civility of this post, thank you. Much like the first commenter, however, this Marine's statements seem contradictory to me: if it were a simple task for our military to get him back, why did six servicemen die in unsuccessful attempts? These cjomments also run into a bit of conflict with information given by Bergdahl's closest military friend in a recent interview.

    My point is, this post seems to contain far more speculation about what happened and what could have happened, something your original post, Jim, avoided. The truth is, we know nothing about Bergdahl's motives and choices. We don't know exactly who these Gitmo six are and what they were being held for. We don't know the machinations of government that hammered out this deal, or why. And it's really not clear that this Marine knows substantively more than anyone else, frankly.

    We only know that an American serviceman is coming home. And as I read elsewhere recently, we bring all of them home to face the music, whether it is bands and parades, a drumming out (in court if need be), or taps.

    1. As I understand it, the 6 servicemen died early on and were from Bergdahl's unit. Knowing where he is 3 or 4 years later and deciding the cost of retrieval wasn't "worth it" is understandable.

      I'm thinking we won't know the actual course of events for some time, ala Pat Tillman.

      Give them time, we'll get shelves of books about this one man.

    2. "And as I read elsewhere recently, we bring all of them home to face the music, whether it is bands and parades, a drumming out (in court if need be), or taps."


  14. I have been sharing your original post with anyone who cares to read it and I will continue to do so. It was correct in it is main point: We Don't Leave Them Behind. It doesn't matter the scuttlebutt, rumor or innuendo. We get them back and then sort it out. Sgt. Bergdahl has been free for less than a week and we don't know anything and I highly doubt we will know anything tomorrow either.

    All we can do is speculate and if there is something that all Americans enjoy, liberal and conservative alike, it is speculation. Almost to the point that knowing just doesn't matter.

    There are processes in place to get the facts, as many as can be had, and all I can really do is allow that process to work, no matter how many try to truncate that process. I, for one, will try to wait patiently for the facts to trickle out and try not to speculate.

  15. Jim,
    A dignified discussion? In 2014? Thanks, Jim. For graciously showing both sides and refusing to try to reduce an issue of Gordian Knot complexity to a bumper sticker slogan.

  16. Jim, oh Jim! What are you doing? For heaven's sake - giving time and consideration to a differing viewpoint? And being all civil and reasoned about it?

    Has no one explained to you how this internetty thing works?

    Here, quick, take this pill & lie down for a while. Maybe they haven't noticed...


    1. LOL, and seriously, “how the internetty thing works” is the bipartisan rancor in a nutshell.

      "Would to God that Americans could learn again to have dignity and discuss their viewpoints without vitriol."

      Thank you Jim for presenting another viewpoint. I certainly have not made up my mind as to what went on with Bergdahl, but your very respectful addition of another viewpoint warms my heart. Maybe, if we all sat down and listened respectfully this world might progress on a positive and less destructive path.

  17. This is new information for me. And it does make a huge difference. Now I get why even Nancy Pelosi was angered and upset, and received an apology from the White House for leaving her, and others who should have been involved in the decision, out of the loop. I heard that on NPR but it was poorly explained. Gitmo is a disgrace, but couldn't we have sent minor players instead of these creatures who consider Americans to be vermin, not human? Loads of new questions. This may well be a rope with which this administration hangs itself. I really think the entire decision making process, not the decision itself, needs to be examined. Thank you again, Jim, and thank you to the Marine who laid out the reasons for his dismay in a clear, respectful and rational manner.

  18. What can I say? There is precedence for what took place... just look at the Civil War! The pundits will counter that there is no prisoner release until the end of GWOT but the reality is we have roadmap to withdrawal from Afghanistan and this had to be included. Did we go overboard? The answer to that is paygrades above my knowledge of the specifics.

    As for Sgt Bergdahl, as you pointed out, it is up the the Article 32 Investigation to determine whether there is substantiated evidence to bring him to trial for a Board to determine his guilt or innocence. And although 6 soldiers gave their lives searching for him and countless other suffered devastating battlefield wounds exactly how much of the blame can be placed directly on Sgt Bergdahl? That will be the question of tomorrow when and if Sgt Bergdahl is tried and the next divisive point amongst Americans.

  19. Sir, don't ever change, we need your service now more than ever. With the forces I perceive at work in this country today there is a lot to fear. Sometimes I despair for my childrens' and grandchildrens' future, but please continue calling out from the wilderness. As an old vet it would be the crowning honor to have your back. I am at your call, just please keep in mind that I am a lot older, a little slower and don't heal as fast. Salute.

  20. As the sister of a former POW (Air Force, WW II), I am distressed by the public rush to judgement about this young man. Such venom and vituperation are hard to fathom. Even the assumption that his disappearance led to several deaths needs to be verified: correlation does not assume causation. Finally, my brother had nothing but empathy for his fellow-sufferers in prison camp. The after-effects of his POW experience were real and painful, but he never linked them to other American soldiers.

    1. Exactly! No link has been shown!

  21. In reading this article, I was reminded of a quote by Muhammed Ali, “The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” ― Muhammed Ali. I respect you even more for having written this follow up piece. Apologize that this comment comes through as Anonymous. Not sure how to change that except to just sign off, Sincerely, Carey Ragels

  22. Just another reason why I never miss reading your blogs. I don't always comment on them, especially if I'm pressed for time as I find myself frequently being during certain times of the year, but I always enjoy them and frequently share them. Oh, and when you get your book finished I will happily buy one of those too. Especially since you gave me so much good FREE reading.

  23. This is the most thoughtful and respectful piece regarding Bergdahl I have read. Thank you.

  24. Once again I am in awe as I read you, Jim. We desperately need voices like yours. I thought one way on this topic. And then I thought another. And then another. Now I have arrived at a place where I am grateful for the opportunity to read you. (And your Marine guest as well.) Maybe it's just that, like so many other things in our lives these days, there simply is no simple answer. But, thankfully, we have a chance to read you or someone like you and you can put voice to our confusion.

    Again, Jim, a lot of us are grateful to you.

  25. One small addition to your excellent piece -- the reason we can HATE the Muslims, but not the IRA is simple: the Irish look like most Americans, the Muslims don't. We, as a people, have always had a hard time fighting an enemy that doesn't look radically different from us. Which helps explain why we were eager to get into a war with Japan, but not so quick with Germany.

  26. The statement that six (or two, or eight) men died searching for Bergdahl seems to be open to disagreement. The NYT posted an analysis a few days ago ( http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/04/world/middleeast/can-gi-be-tied-to-6-lost-lives-facts-are-murky.html ) that seems, to this non-military observer, to be reasonable: the soldiers lost were not in the field searching for Bergdahl at the time. Did his disappearance make it more likely they would be killed? Perhaps, but this seems to be more of a philosophical argument than a realistic cause-and-effect assessment.

    I think it's also worth noting that, while Bergdahl may not have been classified as a POW, he was also not classified as a deserter. This from "Stars and Stripes", which (again, to this non-military observer) is likely an accurate reporter of the military perspective. ( http://www.stripes.com/news/who-is-bowe-bergdahl-1.286405 )

    It's reasonable to assume that there are large parts of this story we don't know. It will be interesting to see how it plays out over the coming months.

    1. This Mother Jones article was enlightening, about the difference between being AWOL and being a deserter (Bergdahl was technically just AWOL, since he was captured only ~24 hours after going walkabout):


      And as I pointed out at the top of the comments under zapster's first, the government (the military, and the administration) rather cynically held off calling Bergdahl a POW because if they had before his release, that would have given the Taliban another tool they could use to pry more prisoners out of Gitmo, earlier, and to demand more protections for them while incarcerated according to the Geneva Convention.


      It doesn't make much sense to me -- SHOULDN'T even Gitmo detainees have GC protections? Especially since so many of them were just hapless goatherders and bystanders sold to Afghan agents, to turn over to our Army? -- but it's not me that setting foreign policy...

  27. Thank you, Jim, for your original rant, and for allowing an opposing viewpoint to place the issue in perspective. I was one of the people who shared your post on Facebook, and will share this as well. And thank you to the unnamed marine who made such lucid comments; thank you for your service, and thank you for respecting the people you disagree with. To you, I offer this: It's harder to be the good guy than the bad guy. I would like to think that we -- US citizens as well as our men and women in uniform -- are the good guys. I can understand your feelings about Bergdahl, but he is OUR issue to deal with. I'm glad he's back to get the whole story. Maybe the outcome won't be favorable to him and maybe it will, but at least he's back. Meanwhile, the five people released from Guantanamo were never charged. After more than a decade, If they were terrorists, we should have tried them. They were no longer battlefield threats, if they ever were. Whatever propaganda Taliban get from their release, we, the good guys, get more from releasing people who we didn't have enough on to go to trial. Our reputation has been sullied by Guantanamo, among other things that seem unAmerican. I'm not going to pretend this one action will heal all wounds, but it's a small step in the right direction. With, I predict, some pain to come.

  28. We will probably never know the full, real story. At best, we can expect to get small bits of it here and there and it will be up to each of us to judge the value of the parts based upon our own unique perspectives. What we need to realize is that none of us is worthy to judge Bergdahl based upon the bits and pieces of the story we will see.

    We do not leave people behind.

    What would it say to that young Captain if we were to try Bergdahl in absentia and sentence him to live his life out in Afghanistan? What would that say to anyone in service to our country? "We will come get you, but only if we like you?" How dedicated can you expect someone to be if that becomes our creed?

    We do not leave people behind.

    People have accused Bergdahl of criminal acts. Those accusations should be investigated. Based upon that investigation, charges should be made. Bergdahl has a right to face his accusers and give his side in a military court of law. Our own judgment and opinions of him will need to be based upon the judgment of that court.

    We do not leave people behind.

    Do your duty and find yourself in deep weeds? We will go in, find you, and get you out. Commit a crime against your fellows? We will hunt you down, charge you, try you, and bring you to justice. I don't see a problem either way.

    We. Do. Not. Leave. People. Behind.

    1. This is where I wish Blogger had a great big LIKE button. Well put, Edward. I am baffled by some of what has spewed onto the screens of various websites and into news accounts. Bergdahl's family has been verbally abused, his father criticized for wearing a beard (similar to ones worn by Taliban...AND that Duck Dynasty guy) and account of the father speaking Arabic in the Oval Office. There was never a citation to any of this, but it seems as though some people are heavily invested in making Bergdahl and his family so very, very despised that the exchange can't possibly be viewed with any favor. It seems breathtakingly cynical to reasonable people. Sadly, too many are willing to believe the worst.

  29. It still comes down to management of information, or misinformation. His response is thoughtful, but based on information he was provided, just as it is for most of us (excluding the knee-jerk pundits who loudly, and usually hypocritically, proclaim their opinions before any consensus on facts has been achieved). The information with which he was provided may or may not have greater accuracy than does ours. I greatly appreciate the sacrifices made by our volunteers in the military services, but the distrust I have for how, and why, information might be dispensed from those higher in the chain of command would have made me a liability as a member of those services. I suppose that one's affinity for and affiliations with the others in your particular 'band of brothers' tend to overcome whatever cynicism one has for the motivations and competence of the 'higher-ups', but it must be extremely difficult to serve when one's faith in the goals, rationale, strategies, and tactics of our military operations has been shaken.

  30. Thanks Master Chief...succinct and well written...the truth will set us free...hopefully...

  31. One of the worst things about this whole mess is the illumination it throws on our complete abandonment of the rule of law, quite possibly across the whole spectrum from POTUS to Fox "News".

  32. Thank you for sharing the Marine Captain's words. I deeply appreciate the opportunity to read and consider well articulated viewpoints, opinions, observations, and information provided from many sides of a situation. Especially when the issues and questions are complex, nuanced, and strike cords of powerful emotion, I value those who take the time to try to provide reasoned, in depth view points. I can see your passion, and I can see the Captain's passion, but neither of you descend into sensational hyperbole or frothing emotionalism.

    Like many of the issues facing our country, this situation is not a simplistic one. I have withheld judgment on this issue. I simply don't have enough information about it to condemn or laud anyone. The more information that comes from credible sources helps to establish facts. Was this trade the correct action? Was it the RIGHT action? I don't know yet; I don't have enough facts to understand what happened, and until I understand what happened, I'm not sure I can come to a judgment about whether it was right or wrong. Or more likely, somewhere in the gray area.

    I am glad that I wasn't the one who had to make this decision. I withhold judgment on whether the President made the RIGHT decision because he had vastly more information than I did (or will ever have), and probably about issues that might never be publicly connected to the immediate actions taken. Whether I support a President or not, an elected official or not, there are some decisions that they must make where I will give benefit of the doubt, or withhold my own judgments, because they have information I do not have & may never have, and some of those decisions are NEVER going to be the "right" one ... some situations are solved with vary degrees of "less damaging" or "less horrible", and have to be made without the advantage of an accurate crystal ball into the future.

    Those who have more information than I do (based on past & current experience, like you and the Captain), can give me better ideas about the decisions that have to be made, the factors to be considered, and you both have given me insights that help me to temper my thoughts about this complex situation.

    The fact that you give a platform to a well-reasoned opposing viewpoint increases your credibility with me. The fact that that alternate viewpoint was well reasoned, based on direct observation & experience, and articulate, gives the Captain credibility.

    I appreciate that it does not necessarily change your own opinion, but thank you for presenting it in its entirety so that I can consider it & use it as another piece in forming MY opinions.

  33. The counterpoint letter from the Marine you include in this post articulately clarifies a military perspective on the Bergdahl issue, but not the essence of the larger argument, which, I think, you express in this piece and its parent piece, Negotiating with Terrorists.
    Our experiences provide context for our values, beliefs, and actions, and each individual brings to an issue the sum of his or her experiences. You, as a Navy veteran, as well as the Marine Captain, have the experience to tender an opinion from a perspective of former and current military service. As for my civilian perspective, almost everything I know about the serving in the military I learned from books, movies, and family members. I will here only refer to Star Trek:TNG and Star Trek: Voyager. Perhaps they are not the best example, I don't know. But what I do know is that when one of their own is at risk, Picard, Riker, and Janeway risk their crew to bring that ONE back. Even Kirk goes back for Spock's body in The Search for Spock. My experience and perspective may not reflect a military background, but I do understand the concepts of citizenship, service, duty, loyalty, and sacrifice. I, too, am the sum of my experiences.

    The issue can be expressed in clear terms:

    is it ever appropriate to leave behind one of our own sons or daughters - even if that son or daughter acted willfully against the beliefs and values he or she swore an oath to protect and defend?

    From my civilian perspective, which admittedly, does not include espionage strategy or international negotiation, if we start down the path of abandoning our sons or daughters even (or especially) if they have committed crimes against the nation while serving in the military, the US will suffer a fatal blow we will have inflicted upon ourselves. The integrity of the military will deteriorate because we abandoned not just one, but all.

    Our Marines, Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, and Guardsmen voluntarily enter service believing that our country will bring them home and provide compensation for their service (I know, that statement opens a BIG can of worms for veterans, and in so many circumstances, our country has failed them, but veterans benefits - or lack thereof - is not the focus here). The focus here is that every serviceman or servicewoman should be brought home, and that we, as a nation, have an obligation to do just that. Even for that one who turns his or her back on us. It is a fundamental, foundational issue.

    That one, whoever he or she may be, who has acted against his or her oath should be brought home to answer for his or her crimes in the most appropriate legal venue. To allow that person to live their lives in a foreign country sets a precedent for those who might see this case and believe that they, too, might "get away" with similar traitorous activities. If nothing else, Bergdahl must be debriefed and questioned to determine his status. He is an American, and one unswerving cornerstone is that WE DON'T ABANDON OUR OWN, even if they deserve it.

    You are right: we don't know if Bergdahl is worth it, but this issue isn't about him as much as it is about the integrity of our country, the military, those who take an oath to serve, and the civilians they represent. It is also about the manner in which the nation's leaders bring about that homecoming. They all should be brought home, and yes, as the Marine Captain stated in his letter, there will be blood.


  34. There is so much still unknown about this story - and yet the bloviating talking heads still have 24 hours of air time to fill with their most profitable commodities - controversy and outrage. So those of us who are a bit more cautious and patient before forming opinions are out here left to wonder (as an earlier commenter noted), it seems Bergdahl left as a private and returned as a sergeant. Was he promoted after he left his post? If so, why? Were the soldiers who lost their lives looking for him on a specific mission to find him or were they out on routine patrol and Bergdahl was just one item on a long list of things they were keeping an eye out for? What's on all the "proof of life" videos kept secret (perhaps appropriately) by the Pentagon and the White House? It seems he wanted to come home which doesn't quite square with the "traitor" label. Or maybe it could. And yesterday, the US Senate viewed one tape (that apparently sealed President Obama's decision to make the trade) that was described as "alarming" but the Senator who was discussing it on TV said he wasn't allowed to share what he saw. The Marine mentioned above, as well as the other men in Bergdahl's unit know a lot - but not everything - and Jim, as you know very well from your work in Navy intel (and I know pretty well from just living) only having part of a story can be as misleading as having provably bad information. I respect the Marine's opinions about the Taliban and suspect, as he says, they're a murderous evil lot but, as I get older I've come to realize that where human nature is concerned, there's not much new in this world. Are they any more evil than the Japanese soldiers my dad confronted in WWII? The tools of war have changed (better weapons, intel and comms) but the cast and script in the play remain unchanged - us against evil (Taliban, AlQuaida, Iraqis, North Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Germans, Confederates and Yankees and back into to the dim past. One thing I know for certain - war is evil business. Also, this war is drawing to a close. I know - not for those who served, those whose bodies and souls will never be the same - and apparently not for many of the hot-head jihadis who will persue their ends until America is no longer but it is, none the less, over. And the five evil guys at Guantanamo were going back home anyway.

    JZ in FL

    1. If I understand correctly - and someone please correct me if I am wrong - promotions continued because he had not been found guilty of anything would prevent promotions/raises etc at that time. Promotions under those circumstances still continue as normal.

      He still hasn't been found guilty of anything at this time. There has been no trial in the 5 days he's been in American hands to take any benefits or promotions away.

    2. Automatic promotions? Really? Without regard to a soldier's behavior? I get that he wasn't found guilty of anything by the military but it sounds like there was enough evidence to make someone think twice about a promotion. Someone with military experience please feel free to weigh in here.

      JZ in FL

    3. When I was active, promotions were pretty much automatic from E-1 through E-4. Once you hit the NCO ranks, you need to go before a board. Although, if you're in a MOS (military occupational specialty) that's really short on personnel, you might have enough promotion points just through time in service/time in grade to qualify you for promotion even without the board.

  35. Hopefully those five Taliban were each fitted with their own personal GPS device embedded directly into their spleen; then the drones will find them when they're teaching IED 101 classes at the Jihad SERE school, or whatever it is Taliban do when they're on the clock.

    Oliver North, who was convicted of trading weapons in return for American hostages (and money that went to funding the Contras' overthrowing of a democratically elected government in Nicaragua), took a break from his strenuous grifting gig on Fox to shill for the Right Wing even more by worrying aloud that Obama might have given money in exchange for freeing Bergdahl.

    Oliver North, who traded weapons for hostages and money, is worried someone might have traded money in exchange for a hostage.

    Shame is officially dead.

    1. No shame. No sense of irony. Oliver North has to be monumentally narcissistic to not see the neon irony in his actions/comments.
      As to the GPS spleen implants, I was wondering if perhaps those five Taliban thugs were given radiation enemas before their release. Like others, I really think there is so very much more to the story.

    2. As I commented elsewhere yesterday...

      Flash! Ollie North digs up Irony, throws its rotting corpse down in the town square, and skull-fucks it as onlookers look on in disgust.

      I suggest we inter Irony in an (unmarked) Tomb of the Unknown Grammatical Expression, to prevent this happening again...

  36. Your previous post and in this one with the Marine Captain's rebuttal provide a needed balance. Unfortunately this is where MSM fails. What it does do rather well is provide NOISE/Opinious as fact. Only when we really listen to both sides can we attempt to begin to understand.

  37. Good of you to include the Captain's essay/letter...a reasoned and thoughtful missive.
    But I will forever lay the horror of Afghanistan at the feet of that greedy cabal that lied us into Iraq....may their souls never know peace.

  38. Well written from you Jim and from the Marine Captain... only issue with Captain's response is the Bergdahl "Our understanding was that he may have taught them US weapons, IED making, and tactics. That’s called not only desertion, but aiding and abetting the enemy"... the one thing that sticks out is MAY HAVE.... they were not sure, and I understand the resentment, but Bergdahl is an American and has the right to be innocent until proven guilty, which could only happen if we got him back. And that is what all in the military fight for!

    1. I also diagree with the Marine Captain's idea that only those who wear the uniform are qualified to comment on this matter:

      "This Bergdahl issue is one that a small sliver of our population has any real business speaking about: Uniformed service-people."

      Um, excuse me. Every American has 'real business' discussing this, at least until our country is officially declared an "empire" instead of a "republic." and our military is officially declared a Preeatorain Guard of same.

    2. I think you've hit on what I see as the most glaring error in the captain's justification of certainty that Bergdahl deserted and joined the enemy: exactly what weapons, tactics, and IED making knowledge did a PFC have that were useful to an incredibly competent, wily foe who at the time had fought US forces for seven years? The obvious follow up question must be how incompetent would his unit's leadership be to not adjust their tactics and operations to account for a suspected captive member who might give relevant tactical information to his captors? There may well be good answers to both questions. Maybe. Just like there are very good questions that Bergdahl will be required to answer during his debriefing and any followup criminal investigation. I prefer to wait for the story to unfold before forming an opinion.

    3. I agree with the gist of your comment, Charlie, and I suspect the Captain would too (Marine officers understand their duty to the republic like no other) but there are two things I'd point out:

      1) I wanted you to see this through a soldier's eye. Not just any soldier, but in this case a Marine who'd been up close to this matter. As I said in the text, you don't have to agree with him, or me for that matter, but I would hope you can see why those in uniform might be tired of being told how to feel about Bergdahl by civilians. Again, I'm not saying you have to agree, I just want you see it through their eyes and understand that it's a reasonable and justifiable viewpoint for a soldier.

      2) A better counter might be: As Americans, we will ALL pay the price if the Captain is right - as I noted in the text. If releasing five bad guys results in the death of more Americans, then all Americans have a right to talk about this issue, we're the ones writing the check.

      Just something to think about.

    4. As counterpoint from another soldier, my husband's statement on this was "It's nice to know that if I am ever captured, America thinks the enemy is more valuable than I am."

    5. But the issue here Jim, is that we do not know. And we're not likely to get accurate info given the fluidity of the situation, the noise on the major networks from both sides, let alone the vitriolic scuttle.

      Yes, I guess it is possible that civvies like us can try and look at it from his POV. To a certain degree. But there's a line we don't generally cross and your Marine Capt. knows as well as any of us do, probably better, that when he's tried, it'll be the process that takes care of him. So. The speculative stuff that is offered from other active duty military personnel or veterans who align against this guy--I'm empathetic in a way. A deserter is nobody's friend.

      But it's the wanton use of runaway speculation that some of us are seeing; and any public appearances by someone with an axe to grind? Not exactly informed view that is reliable.

      It's always healthy to try and balance. The view provided by the counter is a good counter. Someone who's a threat to the rank and file needs to be held accountable, whatever else happens.

  39. This is why I keep reading your blog - not only are your words clear, but I'm not afraid to read the comments. There are many sites which I visit where I will not go into the comment threads, due to the toxic environment. I know 99% is your moderation, and the rest is the ability of the commenters to construct coherent sentences with constructive statements on the subject at hand. Thank you for keeping the 'intelligent' in 'intelligent conversation'.

  40. I appreciate the Captain's position, and have no intention on contradicting him. But one thing sticks with me: he goes with what he was TOLD.

    "On both my deployments to Afghanistan we were all briefed thoroughly on this guy. (…) From intel collection they learned that he apparently got upset with Army life and walked off his camp one night. (…) He sought out the Taliban and aligned himself with them."

    Please, no matter how we can be mad at the guy, no matter how much respect we have for those serving and others who died doing so, at least let's NOT convict Bergdahl already, only based on HEAR SAY!!

    If we allow ourselves to do this to one of ours, if we start in-fighting this way and rip each other apart, only then will the terrorists have truly WON...


  41. It's great that you decided to include the Marine's letter in a followup blog post, rather than just append it as a comment. It shows a great deal of respect for his opinions. And I hope it also shows the Captain why you can't, and shouldn't, retract your first blog post on this topic. Thoughtful, well-reasoned commentary is in very short supply these days.

  42. I read an interesting article today, that suggested he was attempting to "commit suicide by Afghanistan." I think the title of the article is a bit of an overstatement, but that the central premise is certainly possible if not likely.

    A disturbing statistic from the article. "6,717 US soldiers died fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. 82,805 US veterans have killed themselves in the same time period."


    1. Tikidoc: I knew one of the 82,805 personally. He was a young man whom I met when he was 15, joined the reenactment unit I was part of, and after graduating from High School went on to join the Marines. I believe he served two tours in Afghanistan, had real trouble with PTSD, his family tried to encourage him to talk to someone or seek help through the VA, but for any number of reasons, he told them, he was OK, he could handle it. Until he couldn't anymore. I attended his funeral. I will reserve judgement on Sgt. Bergdahl until he has his day in court, and I will only say that I am glad that he has been released and will be coming home.

    2. One can only imagine what kind of PTSD Bowe Bergdahl is likely to experience if the Army forces him to return to America rather than face his military fate in a tribunal in Germany (where he's currently hospitalized).

      The RW hate machine has already pilloried him in absentia and no doubt made his parent's lives and his hometown's leaders' lives hell with their Tweets, phone calls and e-mails. Imagine what they'll do when the man himself is here.

  43. It's always a good thing to acknowledge that things are never, ever as black and white as the media would have us believe.

    My respects to the good Captain. Semper Fi.

  44. Thank you, well reasoned and civil. I would expect no less, and appreciate so much that we, your readers, are screened from the howling uncivil responses you receive.

  45. Dammit. Typo.
    In graf 7 of the Marine Captain's comments, the penultimate sentence begins: "If not heard a single..." I suspect it should read: "I've not heard..."

    Re: the substance. Thank you. Hell of a read over my first cuppa of the day.
    I am not a veteran; several of my closest friends are (Vietnam era). As such, I know that I will never know what I don't know. I can only respect and defer.
    On the other piece though, I _am_ an alcoholic in my 34th year of recovery, and I am quickly becoming an old man (these days as I walk down the hall to make the first pot I remind myself to be grateful for the aches and pains cos they are my body's way of checking in and letting me know we aren't dead yet ).
    And I want to add my validation -- you're dead on the money on the issue of becoming someone different than we thought we were at 18 or 19. At least some of us get that opportunity (and it's ongoing, not just a one-time deal). I believe those who don't get that chance, or who fail to grasp it, are the ones who end up old and bitter.
    Say hello to ShopKat for me.

  46. Thank you, again. I have nothing else to say because I don't know, either, and likely may never know. Thank you just the same.

    1. This. Me too. I've been getting some guff for saying that we shouldn't pre-judge either the situation or the man. Because none of us were there, and none of us have the same information that the people in charge had and have.

      Like Jon Snow: We don't know nothin'.

  47. Thank you. Thank you for having the courage, strength and wisdom to mold your thoughts and opinions based on further evidence. I was going to start with a tongue in cheek "how dare you go evolving" comment but I think you've probably had your fill of snark.
    I know it means little at the end of the day, but I want you to know that I admire you greatly for your wisdom and passion. Thank you for sharing your gifts with the world.

  48. It still all comes down to "I don't know and neither do you" or anyone else for that matter - only Bergdahl. As far as what the Marine captain was told about Bergdahl and his circumstances - they were probably erring on the side of worst-case, why - because they did not know also, which was probably the right thing to do. As far as him coming home - no questions, we did the right thing. Negotiating with terrorist, I disagree somewhat with that connection - the Taliban, like it or not, were part of the Afghan government and as far as I know have not acted outside their country, except for running to Pakistan. They were "soldier" in their fight for their country (as I am sure they saw it). But, in the end, we are leaving Afghanistan and the trade was worth the return of an American soldier. Dennis Smith, First Sergeant, US Army Retired - Airborne!!

    1. I am getting the impression that a large number of people are confusing the Taliban with Al Qaeda. The Taliban is a rectangle, and Al Qaeda is a square. But then, many people don't understand the concept that, while a square is always a rectangle, a rectangle is not always a square.

  49. Just a thought for the Marine Captain... my daughter's boyfriend LCpl Marine was KIA in Desert Storm 1/29/1991... he was first group killed on ground.... it was determined it was friendly fire... should his parents (and the parents of those killed with him) be angry at the soldiers that fired the missle at his LAV? If soldiers take retribution against another solider for his bad choices or his actions, it would be as if you would not spill any blood for those those that fired the missle or that they did not deserve to be brothers of the other Marines any longer? War is not pretty and bad things happen... but all of you serve to protect our American rights as citizens to be judged, here at home, not left in the hands of the another country.

  50. Again, Jim, thank you so much for your intelligent, thoughtful essays. Here's what I read on another site about the supposed six killed looking for Bowe:
    1. Bowen and Walker were killed 6 weeks later while providing security for the Afghan presidential election.
    2. Two were killed while clearing out a group of insurgents from a hospital.
    3. Two were killed while helping fellow soldiers whose Humvee had hit an IED.

    NO idea if this is true or not, but I think we all have to be aware of all possibilities. After all, Senator John McCain (AZ) made 32 anti-American videos while he was captured.

    What do I want? Justice. Truth. And I think you provide the opportunity for those to occur.


  51. You lost me at the Iran hostage issue. The US CIA was responsible for that whole mess from 30 years before by overthrowing their legitimate government and instituting a puppet.

    1. Oh for the love of Mike. You completely missed the whole damned point, Anonymous. Way to wander off and fall down a rabbit hole.

  52. I don't know why I wanna say this here and now, but I do...... "If you can RF chip your dog. You can RF chip your terrorist". Something tells me that we will "know" where the 5 released are located for a long time. I believe there is a lot more to warfare today than is known to those of us not waging it, or directing the waging of it.

    I've been wondering if these 5 have had good "healthcare" since their detention....you know, regular check ups, given vaccinations?, Medical tests?, any sort of procedure where they were sedated? It wouldn't be unusual for them to have been "examined" thoroughly prior to release to make sure they were not carrying some sort of comunicable disease. Right?

    1. You do realize, I trust, that your tacit permission for medical torture gives our enemies permission to do the same the next time one of our soldiers has the misfortune to fall into enemy hands?

    2. These guys have probably been "waterboarded"...and you're concerned about implantation of a RF device??? I don't think our enemies need "tacit" permission or otherwise to torture if they are want to do so.

    3. Any vet, and some airlines animal checkers (is there a term for those who deal with traveling animals?) can get one of the little handheld scanners that find those chips. That's the whole idea. That they can be detected and read. Even if it's a 'special' chip, if we can detect it, so can they... and as CharlieH points out, we don't want to set that sort of precedent.

    4. Aside from the above good points, our Anonymous friend here seems to have missed the fact that the maximum range of an RFID chip is measured in meters -- because anything more would likely mean that the power involved would wind up causing massive burn injuries in the tissue directly surrounded the chip every time it was pinged.


  53. Thank you for sharing both sides. If we can't openly listen to both sides of an argument, then how can we ever be expected to learn and grow? You don't have to agree with either side. Listen, and decide for yourself. I'm not so stupid, as to think I know everything.

    Both sides have valid points. And unless you were there with him, you don't know what he did, or why. Assuming he did desert, and sides with Taliban, was this a surprise to the Army or those in his unit? It doesn't sound like it was. From what I keep hearing, everyone knew how he felt. That being said, why was he then put in this position? Why would you entrust your safety and security in this person? If you did, how can you legitimately then complain that he put lives at risk because he deserted his post? Where was his leadership? Why did they allow him to continue in this capacity? His leadership, let him down, and his leadership let those around him down. Based on my own military experience (20 years/retired), it is my opinion that he is not the only one responsible for the deaths of those who were killed while looking for him, and for putting his unit at risk by his actions. His leadership failed him, failed those who were killed as a result, and failed that unit, by putting them all at risk when they continued to knowingly put him in that position. Of course he still has personal accountability for his actions. I'm certainly not suggesting he doesn't. But I don't believe he should take the fall for something that sounds like was a well known fact ahead of time.

  54. Yes. Not either/or, but rather both/and.

    It's the same kind of thinking that leads to a variety of other appropriate solutions that piss individuals off (and rightly so; were I one of them, I'd be livid...), AND which do what is right in the larger picture.

    Sometimes doing things right just isn't tidy, and what's intellectually right still stomps all over very raw emotions. It's like putting a rapist behind bars, with a sentence, when what the victim (and victim's family members) wants is to run the SOB through the chipper shredder. The latter is entirely understandable -- and it's purely driven by a desire for vengeance. Which is *natural*. And understandable.

    But that doesn't mean that it's right, or right for the society to do it.

    Truth is a messy thing, and usually depends on where you look at it from -- and what emotions you have running while you look. We're not nearly as rational as we think we are. Really, truly, NOT. Feel first, think to rationalize is the absolute norm.

    True, coolly considered reasoning is rare.

    And often as a result, not wildly popular.

    I'm glad we got Bergdahl out. AND I hope that he gets a fair, honest hearing, and that justice is done.

  55. I think we first need to wait to see if those six people really died trying to find this guy. New information seems to indicate that the death toll is questionable.

    And I think the people who keep screaming about "negotiating with terrorists" need to ask themselves how many post-Eisenhower presidents didn't?

    1. The answer is none...up till obama we have never given in to terrorist demands.

    2. Greg - ETC(SW) USN - RetiredJune 6, 2014 at 5:01 PM

      " . . . up till Obama we have never given in to terrorist demands."

      Except, of course, when we did - and not all that infrequently. Reference the book, "Negotiating with Evil" written by Mitchell Reiss, who served in George W Bush's State Department and was a Foreign Affairs advisor to Mitt Romney (ie not exactly your limp liberal apologist stereotype). Some examples -

      According to Reiss, "American presidents have negotiated with terrorists and rogue regimes to secure the release of hostages, to arrange temporary cease fires and to explore whether a more permanent truce might be possible."

      Here are a few more examples of the U.S. negotiating with terrorists, according to Reiss’ book, as compiled by Politifact:
      • After the North Koreans captured the U.S.S. Pueblo in 1968, President Lyndon Johnson apologized for spying as part of negotiations to secure the release of 83 American prisoners.
      • In 1970, President Richard Nixon pressured Israel, Switzerland, West Germany and Britain to release Palestinian prisoners after two airlines were hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
      • During the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 to 1981, President Jimmy Carter agreed to unfreeze $8 billion in frozen Iranian assets after more than a year of negotiations with the Iranian revolutionaries.
      • President Bill Clinton’s administration sat down with Hamas in attempts to negotiate peace with Israel. His administration also worked directly with the Taliban nearly two decades ago on several occasions to see if the group would hand over Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders.

  56. I was curious about the Marine Captain's comment that Bergdahl was never designated a POW and did some looking for context (since it was held up as a point of evidence that he deserted).

    I found one article that asserted that the Pentagon has stopped using the term "prisoner of war" for the purposes of reporting/recording the status of personnel some years ago (no exact timeframe given to check, unfortunately). Bergdahl was listed as "missing/captured" which would apparently allow him to be eligible for the POW medal (pending results of the investigation which will happen, I am sure).

    I am not in the military and so cannot speak to any of this with direct knowledge, but thought I would leave this here. I welcome input from folks who actually do know.

    1. A little googling turns up DoD Instruction 1300.18, which states: "POW is not a casualty status for reporting purposes. For reporting purposes, the casualty status and category would be missing-captured." Wikipedia says this is a clarification added in 2008, but the casualty status category change was from from 2000. Searching with 2000 added bears that out, including turning up several POW groups trying to get it restored for years now.

    2. Thanks. I don't doubt the Captain's experiences in that this is how he interpreted things, but I was wondering what the underlying story might be. I suspect that changes like that don't get clearly announced and that the rumor mill can cast its own light on things.

    3. The current and proper term is DUSTWUN (Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown). Tommy D

  57. The views of people who want to slap the "traitor" label on Bergdahl are lacking in nuance. So maybe he did walk away. But while that, on its face, is wrong, nobody seems to be asking why.

    Was he bullied in his unit? Fellow soldiers have described him as aloof -- was there a reason he didn't care to hang out with them?

    Was he sent on missions with no objective and without adequate gear and preparation? Were the ROE so restrictive that it made our troops sitting ducks?

    Did he witness abuse of civilians, rapes, or random killings? What particular moral sensitivities were violated for Bergdahl, and how?

    Was there corruption and cronyism in his unit? Had the chain of command made him a black sheep?

    We don't know everything, but from what we do know, Bergdahl was experiencing a profound sense of betrayal and disillusionment. By whom? His fellow soldiers? The chain of command? The government? The American people? That part of the story will be at least as important as what ultimately happens to Bergdahl. He didn't deploy with the intention to desert. He had high hopes and ideals for what he would be part of in Afghanistan, and the reality obviously collided bitterly with those hopes. How, and why? Is there a larger problem here? That is also a question we should be asking.

    1. There have also been several reports that Bergdahl's unit suffered a complete breakdown of basic unit discipline, including such mundane matters as soldiers wearing baseball hats while on patrol rather than helmets. He may also have been a witness to the commission of war crimes upon the Afghan population, if reports of a MRAP running over an Afghan child bear out.

  58. Thank you so much.

    The only comments I have to make are this:

    First, the proper question is not "was he worth it". The question should be "are WE worth it". We did not do this for HIS honor; we did it for OURS; because that is just who we are. He is ours, and regardless of what he may or may not have done, it is OUR job and no other's to take care of him... including, if need be, to hang him by the neck until dead.

    And second, from what the Marine Captain said, the military decision was to leave him where he was... and Obama overrode that decision. That in and of itself is going to have repercussions. IMO he made the right decision; this is *particularly* true if it turns out that Bergdahl was indeed giving aid and comfort--and military training--to the enemy. If he was doing that, we should have gone in to get him out much sooner, because that had the potential to kill a lot more than 6 soldiers. Leaving him there was, it seems to me, a bad decision all around, unless it was done, with Bergdahl's knowledge and consent, for intelligence purposes.

    I doubt that we'll ever really know. However, Bergdahl is now home--we were late getting there, but we did not leave him behind--and there is no longer any possibility of him giving further training to the enemy, if that is what he was doing. I am content with Obama's decision.

  59. But....war. Approved by all but 6 congress members way back in 2001. When Bush came out on September 17th and announced that we were going after Bin Laden, I cried. My better half told me no worries -- we'll get him and be out in under 2 years.

    I ran a group in Oregon, back in the 1980's - Oregon Committee for a Free Afghanistan. We met Northern Alliance men in the states for restorative surgery, I hung out with Afghani expats and ate goat on holidays. Our group had bets placed on how long it would take the Afgan puppet government to fall after Russia withdrew their final troops from Kabul.

    When Bush said, "We're going in", I immediately predicted an awful, bloody war lasting at least 12 years.

    War. Leads to .... prisoner negotiations, POWS, destruction, blood, death, inadequate care for veterans, PTSD, maiming, suicides....

    Will the wars ever cease? When can humanity develop enough dignity to discuss their viewpoints without vitriol? Or is war just too damned profitable?

    Sorry -- I am in awe of the men and women who serve their country, who are willing to lay down their lives for greater ideals of good. But I have really learned to hate war.

    There's got to be a better way. I hope that someday human beings will discover it.

  60. Great respect for that Marine for giving a coherent, reasoned opposing argument with an almost total lack of caps lock fever, name-calling and personal insults. Big respect to you sir for giving him his voice.

    A thought occurs - and I am coming from the point of view of being almost totally ignorant of military and intelligent processes. IF the guy was teaching them how to make IEDs and suchlike, it makes sense to me to get him out of there before he teaches them anything else, and, is it possible he now has intel that might be of use?

  61. The NY Times reports today that the alleged 6 deaths purportedly attributable to searching for Bergdahl is a speculative, murky and questionable claim.

  62. I wish the Captain's words were the ones being used to explain why there is the perception of a problem with this. I don't really agree with his conclusions but I understand his perspective and I respect it.

    What I can't do, what I won't do, is stay silent when the issue is conflated as it has been by talking heads and pundits. When the criticism isn't about how this was done or even necessarily what the cost was but is boiled down to seething hate for President Obama predicated on fundamental hypocrisy, extended to the family of Sgt. Bergdahl to the point of which they are being painted as traitors by a media that uses even Mr. Bergdahl's facial hair as a means of correlating him to terrorists and solidified by convicting a man before the US Military has even made a determination of whether or not to charge him. Whatever happened out there, whoever has the right information about Bergdahl's situation, when we allow disrespect to his family we allow disrespect to every military family. The Bergdahls are being written off as casualties of the Right's conflict with the President. That I cannot abide - because I respect our servicemen.

  63. I fully respect and believe in the resentment that Bergdahl's fellow soldiers felt for him - I still believe that he should be treated as innocent until proven guilty, but I believe in their passion. I get the impression, from everything I've read, that I would have hated serving with the guy in peace time, much less war. I carry my own resentment for certain of my fellow troops, to this day, more than 16yrs ago now. Soldiers I trained with in peacetime, mostly, so I can imagine the anger would be multiplied many times over in wartime. I won't tell any long stories, but summarize it thusly - it's easy to deal with, and work with, and forgive, someone who screws up because they are flighty, suffering, not so bright, distracted, or whatever. Even major screw ups, because, well, that's life. But then there are those who are DETERMINED to be trouble and do not seem to care that their actions have serious repercussions on others. Those. I get the impression that Bergdahl may have been one. Hopefully an investigation will deal with this, uncover the truth, and respond accordingly.

    To me, it doesn't matter what Bergdahl was. A traitor? Insane? Whatever. WHO he was, was an American soldier, and even if criminal, we had a responsibility to him and his family. We needed to bring him home. While this Captain may have insider info on what people assumed Bergdahl was up to, I am not sure how he could have proof, BUT, for the sake of being respectful, I'll agree that he does know, exactly, 100%, what he's talking about here, that he's seen it with his own two eyes, and I can say that this makes me even more sincerely sympathetic to his anger. Ok. So, I'll ask, is he a judge? A lawyer? A UCMJ court? I'm sorry, but it isn't up to him or his peers. He might make a good witness at trial, but his disgust about this trade doesn't matter legally (it does matter to him, I won't deny that!). A police officer can witness a man committing a murder, but this does not give him the right to declare the man guilty, sentence him to death, or put a bullet in his brain (except in defense of self and others) That too, I agree, must really suck. It must be VERY hard to resist that sort of vigilante justice, but it would not be right. It would set a bad precedent. A very bad precedent.

    One thing I can't connect, as this Captain does, is the connection between who Bergdahl is, and who the Taleban prisoners released are. We wanted Bergdahl released. They wanted their people released. In my opinion, the concept that they were 'traded' like produce or livestock... it's just weird. It's inhumane. You don't put people on a scale and decide their worth. We most definitely do not do that with our soldiers. I know, it IS called a trade, so perhaps my disconnect on this is just my personal problem, but what if we were trading for a more 'popular' soldier? One that people liked. In that case, is it ok that these 5 Taliban were released? What if they go back to work right away as this Marine surmises they might? What if, we had no POWs to trade but still needed to release these Taleban prisoners as we had no more war and no other reason to legally keep them? What if we had to let them go for 'free?

    Geneva conventions regarding POVs - If there were indictable criminal offenses against these GITMO POWs, they could be retained longer, but if they had no charges pending, and were being held inappropriately, we would be the bad guys for holding them. Something Guantanamo is ... well... I don't know/understand all the details, but what I see about that situation is iffy, so I won't address it more. What I do understand is that we will need to start releasing POWs anyway, with or without getting anything back in trade. In this particular case, we upheld two separate obligations. We got our soldier back. We released some POWs that would need to be released anyway. We do not have to be HAPPY about either one, but that doesn't mean that we did the wrong thing.

  64. Amidst all of the heat and accusations played out by the opinion bloviators & politicians, I keep wondering one thing. One criticism I hear from people who know the President is that he tends to be too analytical and can't always be decisive when making tough choices. In light of that, I find it impossible to believe that this trade was carried out without thorough discussion from the highest military command, intelligence command and legal advisors. It's not in the President's nature to act unilaterally. Yet, that is the accusation. I really did appreciate the viewpoint of the young officer as I do yours, Jim. Well done.

  65. One small (and maybe nitpicky) concern -- The good Captain appears to be relating things he got from intel briefings and buddies in intel. Isn't that frowned upon, to say the least? I am not trying to score a point about this. (One of the things I've learned in 30 or so years is that that scoreboard pretty much exists only in one's head.) I ask, coming from a background of virtually no knowledge of military life and culture.

    1. lol The good Captain is not leaking top secret intel or even telling what the intel is he is simply basing his opinion off of knowledge he is privy to.No it is not frowned upon.

  66. There is a tremendous human urge to rescue, without regard to cost. When people are stranded on mountains or at sea, trapped in fires and under fire, we rescue them first and ask questions later, even at the expense of our own lives. We take care of our own.

    The difference in viewpoints between Jim and the Marine could easily be (and I am NOT saying it IS, just that it COULD be) that Jim's training is farther to the political end of the military than the Marine's, and therefor Jim understands the problem from a different (not necessarily better or clearer) point of view.

  67. Thank you so much for writing this! It very eloquently speaks my mind on the subject. I understood your earlier contribution, and it brings an important perspective, but it wasn't the whole picture. The reasons given by this Marine are the precise reasons I responded vociferously to the first news of the trade. (And the fact that he appeared on national television with that beard -- that was a loud and clear statement, to me.) Politics don't even enter the process for me, though I am aware both sides will use it to their perceived advantage.
    Americans must return to critical thinking, or we're doomed.
    Thanks again, so very much, for the fairness of this piece. And to that Marine -- thank you doesn't begin to cover it, but it's what we've got: THANK YOU <3

    1. Do the Duck Dynasty guys beards make the same statement to you? What about ZZ Tops beards? How about Amish guys? Conservative Jews? Exactly what statement does the beard make to you?

    2. I had the same questions as Amy. Opposing the prisoner swap of Sgt. Bergdahl on the basis of his father's appearance doesn't strike me as a particularly good example of "critical thinking."

      Dave B.

    3. As one who has worn a long full beard (for no better reason than that it hides a coupla extra chins) for over 40 years, I tire easily of people who would categorize or judge me on the basis of my facial follicular lassitude. My patriotism cannot be discerned thereby, nor my politics nor anything else. However anyone from the Bergdahl family presents themselves, the ONLY salient issue is the military conduct of Bowe Bergdahl.

      Just as an aside, I wish those "Duck Dynasty" people would shave.

  68. I saw this yesterday at Politicalgates, posted by Freebird4. Sorry, I can't seem to paste the image.:


    It's a cartoon by Mike Luckovich titled "Signs for Any Occasion." The elephant has two signs, one saying "Obama should've left that soldier behind in Afghanistan" and the other saying "Obama left that soldier behind in Afghanistan."

    As always Jim, thank you for being the gentleman you are, and respecting the Marine's right to his feelings and thoughts. As for the rest of this shemozz, I agree it's way too early to either condemn or exonerate Bergdahl.

  69. Thank you again for a wonderful discussion of a difficult subject.
    M from MD

  70. Chuck Hagel said that no one died looking for Bergdahl, I tend to believe him over myth created by Bolton's former aid and a former foreign policy advisor to Romney. I really think we need some daylight between that. I wish we would see that addressed more


  71. Jim,

    For every Marine Captain there is, as you point out, 10,000 howling mad chicken hawks who for this is very tribal.

    For every superb post you make here, there is a National Platform provided for despicable Oliver North or Ralph Peters.

    It is fairly simple in regards to Bergdahl; Either we are a Nation of Laws or we aren't.

  72. My father was a Marine and served in the Pacific during the second world war. He was also a hard rock miner who worked under ground for many more years than he was a Marine. The thing he taught me while I was growing up was you don't leave anyone behind. I don't care if it's in a drift or a raise or if it's on Bougainville or Guam. Get them out. He told me the stories of combat that he told no one else. I even met some of the men he talked about when I was a kid. Most of these men were just scared shitless and trying to do a nasty job. Did the best they could. Turns out it was a good job. Some of them were wounded getting dead guys out so the Japanese didn't get them. My dad lost his leg tending to wounded and dying Marines on Guam during an ambush. He did not ask if they were deserving or not. Those men were there and needed help. They were American servicemen. I am sorry to disagree with this Captain but what he said is no excuse. You bring them home. Then if there is an issue deal with it. Ignoring it is too easy. The Japanese ignored it by committing ritual suicide. Leaving Bergdahl to rot with the Taliban is much the same as ritual suicide, it solves the immediate need but does nothing to cure the disease.

  73. I was a Marine in Vietnam and I had always believed that the reason we never leave anyone behind is as much about honoring our comrades and their sacrifices as it was about honoring the families of that marine, soldier, or sailor who was killed or wounded, taken prisoner, or just 'walked away'.

  74. We are pulling our troops out of Afghanistan and the war is almost over. Soon we will have to release the prisoners in Guantanamo and the detainees in kept in other locations because the war will be over. Does anyone remember the Geneva Convention? The five Taliban officials traded in this deal were kept in our prisons for years and years, but they never charged with a crime. It is better to trade them now and get the American back then to let them free go in a year and leave an American soldier to die as a Taliban captive.

  75. @ethiessen1 That's because Congress (sadly, even Dems), have done everything they can so that they can not only prevent President Obama from ever closing GITMO, but trying or transferring prisoners too. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/12/14/929001/-Pundits-Punch-and-Congress-Cowers-Bill-Bans-all-Gitmo-Prisoner-Transfers-for-Trial

    1. Anon-I'm well aware of that-I wasn't blaming him, merely pointing out the campaign promise. It remains a mess left behind by the Bush Administration that will not be an easy thing to clean up.

  76. I liked both of your posts on this subject. You should not be surprised at the backlash though Jim, nothing brings out the poo flinging howler monkeys like someone wanting to have a rational discussion of a hot button current event.

  77. It's alarming that many Americans seem so willing to forgo one of the key proponents of our laws: the presumption that one is innocent until proven guilty. In this instance, Bergdahl, some people aren't even waiting for him to be charged before convicting him.

    We are a free nation because we are a nation of laws. Without the law, we are just a big, dumb, group of people gathered together on a continent calling ourselves a free nation. Anything I have to say about Bergdahl, or you have to say, or a blogger who gets thousands of hits has to say, or a radio pundit who gets thousands of "dittoes", or a Senator, or a Marine captain who served two tours in Afghanistan, it's all anecdotal at this point.

  78. I have just recently retired from the U.S.Army special operations.and would like to point out that the 100 or so troops that I worked with and continue to have a friendship with have never said anything negative pertaining to the release of berghal and we are very happy for him and his family that he is released guilty or not I and those around me would of volunteered to rescue him at any point despite the previous outcome so when I say it is not his release that makes us so incredibly angry.What has us so upset is the fact that obama has undermined everything america stands for by giving in to terrorist demands and by doing so has given terrorist all over the world hope and that if they persist long enough that they too will be able to make uncle sam buckle and bow to their demands and obama did so on his own despite the checks and balances that are in place to prevent any one person from becoming a dictator.Obama is not special and should believe that he should follow the rules set in place and followed by all of his predecessors.
    Someone made a comment about army rank being aotomatic based on time served and this is correct from E-1 to E-4 with a few exceptions but the rank of E-5 sgt. he would of had to go in front of a board of his superiors to of been promoted to the rank of sgt. as well as earned enough promotion points.

    1. Your "upset" seems to ignore all the examples given in the first post going back to prisoner exchanges since the Civil War (and probably some before that). By the way GW released prisoners as well. 30% of them have returned to the "fight". Obama's record? 6% and he also got someone back, GW just released the Gitmo prisoners without revealing when to who was released. The only reason we know about them is 60 Minutes did a segment on the men released and in Saudi Arabia (It was a Muslim country willing to take them) and how all this money was being spent on re-habilitating them and then as a postscript how some had "fooled" even their benefactors by rejoining the fight against the US. Marlene

  79. I disagree with the Captain on multiple points but found/find it astonishing that anyone would co-opt what Mr Wright said in his last essay to try to hush/ shut down/ discredit the Captain.I don't want the Captain discredited. His voice and assertions are a piece of the puzzle which must be dealt with as this unfolds.

    It seemed quite clear in the last essay and is made even more explicit here that Mr Wright reserved his condemnation of the crap surrounding this event for a specific type/group of opportunistic hatemongers ( and what , from the email quotes above, appear to be their slavering hordes )
    I take strong issue with the Captain's assertion
    "This Bergdahl issue is one that a small sliver of our population has any real business speaking about: Uniformed service-people. "
    Uniformed service-people serve us. I understand that each service member has experiences and knowledge I do not have as a plain old citizen but in the end , they serve us.
    How they conduct themselves within rules, protocols, and law is our business. It still grates on me that the abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib was brought to light by Amnesty International and only a sustained effort to report and push the issues from outside the military resulted in a real effort to deal with it all.
    It still grates on me that sexual assault and abuse of service members by other service members gets lost far too often in chain of command problems and that it appears it will take sustained public pressure to deal with it. Ditto on the messes facing veterans needing medical care. We have responsibilities to those who serve us that are not getting taken care of by the organs of the state , the state which is us.
    I reject any notions that only service-members may talk about those issues as well.

    I reject any notion that we leave anyone behind. Anyone.
    I reject the notion that the release of the 5 prisoners will automatically result in loss of face , etc for the US though I do also worry that we sent home deeply angry men. Somehow or other, the mess which is the Guantanamo detention story is going to bite us in the butt and not wholly because all-those-people-were-really-bad-people-who-hate-us.If this bites us in the ass, it won't be a mere negotiating-with-terrorists-caused-this dealie. Period.
    This is not to say the military cannot or should not deal with sorting out what Mr Bergdahl did or did not do . I hope there is a careful thorough investigation and that any decisions to prosecute or not come from real facts, not fervor.

    I have to disagree with the Captain in his rejection of the idea
    "...that disagreeing with this process is somehow political.'
    It is all political, Sir. All of it. In the best sense of the notion of political- the business and activity of the people in how they organize themselves and operate as a state/group.
    I do agree it shouldn't be political in our current bastardized notion of political- oneupmanship, competition for turf, marketing of phony moral issues type horsepunky.

    Alaska Pi

    1. Very good summation, Alaska Pi. *****

    2. Thoughtful and excellent point of view. (applauds) c.c.thomas

  80. WRT the "Gang of Five" former comrades-in-arms who are now badmouthing Bergdahl under the tutelage of the GOP: Let us not forget how the so-called "Swiftboat Veterans for Truth" lied about John Kerry's service. Politics trumps all too often nowadays.

  81. I would like to get the CWO's opinion on some of the information this site puts out.
    From Doonsbury's the Sandbox: Bouhammer'sBlog.com has several posts by different people who say they were involved with and have first hand knowledge of Bowe Bergdahl's situation from as far back as 5 years.
    I'm sure you are aware of this information. I would just like to read your opinion on/of it.
    Thanks for your essays and for being what I consider very fair in your assessments.

    1. Actually I would like to know what anyone thinks of the above mentioned posts. It seems that many in the military convicted him of being a deserter way back.
      While I can see that people with different views and experiences come to this subject in very different ways and will give his actions varied interpretations, there just seems to be a great deal of animosity towards him with very little attempt at understanding.
      I adhere to the opinion that all we have at this point is opinion and we need to wait to find out what the truth is. If we ever do.
      S Williamson

    2. One of the soldiers in Bergdahl's platoon who's been talking to Fox News, Josh Korder, was recently discharged himself, listed as "other than honorable".


  82. Excellent, thought provoking article - as was your original.

    I completely agree that we need to wait until the Military trial for the truth to come out.

  83. First: thanks and congratulations for posting your thoughts on the Bowe Bergdahl affair. they are a fortunate island of sanity is a sea of what sadly passes for "political" discourse in this country these days.

    However, I have a sinking feeling that whatever the Army's final determination of the business will be, the dialog, indeed the whole framing of the affair is probably irremediably poisoned by the sheer volume and intensity of hatred and spite Bergdahl's return has generated. Your Marine Captain's response, though, points out another factor which, I think has been overlooked: as he indicates, it seems to have been a given, in Afghanistan at the time, that Bowe Bergdahl was universally regarded as a "deserter", if not an actual turncoat. What evidence (if any) this attitude was based on is unclear: but I think that, no matter what the actual "facts", turn out to be, the "worst-case" analysis of Bergdahl's case is going to become the Accepted Wisdom - since, we have to face, how many people (especially the sort prone to send spittle-flecked hate-mail as reproduced above) will ever admit (even to themselves) that they were wrong? About anything?

  84. What I've noticed is that a number of Republicans with presumably good connections and enough brains to hold their ears apart[1] were enthusiastic about Bergdahl, and demanding that Obama move Heaven and Earth to get him back, and...., right up until the deal was announced.

    Then there was a sudden shift.

    According to this Marine Corps Captain, he was briefed (on a bunch of rumors, or a bunch of intelligence) years ago, so the allegations were not a closely-held secret in the military.

    But we see people like McCain and Oliver North, among others, posting things - why didn't some of their friends let them know to simply not mention Bergdahl, that there were...complications?

    [1] After discarding Tom Random Tweeter and Bob Random Blogger.

  85. Here's some things people wrote about Bergdahl, in the Long Long ago:


    Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) - 2014
    Senator Jim Inhore (R-OK) - 2013
    Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) - 2014
    Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) - 2014
    Wall St Journal - 2011
    Allen West (former Col, former Rep) - 2013

    I've trimmed out a bunch of bloggers and misc. people; these are people who presumably had friends and connections who could have warned them off of a tricky issue.

  86. Quite frankly I liked what both of you wrote. Each side was reasoned and made me nod in agreement. Good job to both of you.

    The politician trying to gain cheap political points by screaming, and whinning on our televisions are disgusting. Totally disgusting and should be ashamed of themselves. But they will never be.

  87. Thank you, Jim, for presenting a thoughtful, intelligent viewpoint disagreeing with your own. With all respect due to the Captain, I am glad that President Obama acted to bring Sgt. Bergdahl out of Afghanistan--to the joy of his family and friends if an investigation finds him innocent of the various accusations that swirl around him, or to the consequences of his actions if he discovered to be guilty. Until that investigation is complete, I'm reserving judgement.

    That Other Jean

  88. Todays news indicates that the Army cannot say that anyone died searching for Bergdahl.
    In the LA Times, they profiled the 5 bad guys who we traded....only one actually was active in the Taliban military...and he was considered a moderate. Two were civil servant types, and one was a local sheriff.
    The intel services do not think these guys are threats to US national security.

    Sorry, but the misinformation out there is so thick, it is hard to take anyone's word at this point....I will await the military investigation findings before rushing to judgement.

    1. My first thought on hearing of the exchange was, how many of these 5 were sold to the CIA by a neighbor or brother-in-law with a grudge? That Turn In A Taliban For Cash! program was award-winningly stupid and lazy.

  89. You know what? Just screw it and toss Bowe Bergdahl and his wanna be Taliban dad in Gitmo and toss the keys in the Caribbean! If THAT will just convince the friggin mouth breathing ,Fox baited, howler monkeys to STFU I am willing to make that sacrifice.

    I mean the kid has spent less than half the time locked up as the gomers they traded for him. And his dad has been trying for all that time to understand and find some connection with his son's Pashtun captors. So, OK, maybe imprisoning them together will silence the frothing sewer of right wing Obama/Bergdahl hatred based on thin air, FNC masturbation and 30 IQs.

    You gotta give some credit to the most august and serious Rightie pols and pundits. Jim just explained that 30 years of experience and hard knocks has mellowed some of his younger exuberance to "kick ass, take names" and ask questions later. Three decades of the friction and fog of military OPS and life, and hard won introspection revealing that not all situations are nails calling for a hammer.

    It took thirty years for Jim to accept that he can reverse his stated opinions and support an alternate approach to reality based events. For nearly all Repubs and Right Wing Obama hating assholes, it took them less than 3 days to accomplish the same feat re a young US soldier captured, held for 5 years and then released by the enemy in a combat theater.

    I am impressed with that rapid turnaround. But now thoroughly tired of the false tirade of FNC and Repub reactionary vomit over Bergdahl. So toss him back behind bars, assume he is guilty of whatever they say he is and maybe just return to the normal Rightie lunacy level of last Friday. PLEASE!!

    Respecfully, Tommy D

  90. Right or wrong, reporting is that a fair number of Afghanistan vets agree with your Marine Captain correspondent. See, for instance, Elliot Ackerman, who echoes many of the same arguments. Whether or not he was a deserter and collaborator, they believe it.

    This war is ending badly. The first phase, with a clear goal, went well, and then it just…went off the tracks. There has been no clear victory or loss. A lot of vets and serving military are angry and frustrated and all the press is fanning their frustration.

    Why could the Republicans not have just let matters go, accepted the return of Bergdahl, which they had been asking for for years, and found something else to fight about?

    1. Looks like Bergdahl is a scapegoat here. And I note that the Captain said basically that he 'was briefed'. I'd like to know if this was just BS moving around and being amplified until it's what 'everybody knows'.

    2. Why could the Republicans not have just let matters go, accepted the return of Bergdahl, which they had been asking for for years, and found something else to fight about?

      They did! Well, the second part, anyway. The Squirrel! Effect has a way of wiping out inconvenient memories, but even without that these jerks have absolutely no difficulty doing a perfect 180°, and violating any number of laws of physics by immediately traveling in the opposite direction at the same speed they were going when they encountered the politically shiny/furry object that caused their reversal. John McCain, who certainly should know better, having been a POW himself, went from supporting a prisoner exchange to excoriating Obama over a successful exchange, and then vehemently denying he ever did any such thing. Intimations of Alzheimer's are cheap, and well, fuck, he's a politician, right? But, dayum...

  91. Until the facts are in on any situation, there is only one side to an issue: Patience and sanity. We must remain sane and calm while we wait for the final word to come. At that point we may be overjoyed, angry, or frustrated, but we must retain our composure, for at that juncture all of our posturing and rhetoric have no value. Save, perhaps, for personal catharsis.

    Good on you, Chief. I greatly respect your views and opinions (even though I may not always agree with them), and thoroughly enjoy reading your blog.

    D. Stredwick

  92. Bravo Zulu, Jim

    I have great respect for the Marine Corps, and, by association, the Marine Captain whose eloquent response to your initial post affected me, but I support your decision to stand behind your original blog post.

    I served aboard a sister battleship at the time of the explosion in the turret aboard the USS IOWA, an experience which, in retrospect, greatly influenced my attitude toward the veracity of "group think" / official versions before the facts are known when applied to the military.

    The initial "official" story, later proven to be entirely wrong, was that the turret was blown up by a gay gunner's mate who was jilted by a shipmate. I remember clearly when the captain came on the 1MC to explain to the crew that "Some queer blew up the turret" or words to that effect. This story was told repeatedly by Command Level (and above) Senior Officers, and there were very few in the Navy who questioned the "Official Version".

    Later, it was shown that the explosion resulted from prohibited experiments by a Senior Chief Gunner's Mate who was using the main battery to test prohibited powder/projectile combinations, trying to increase the range of the main battery.

    To this day, when I speak with my former shipmates, the initial lie (blown up by a "queer gunner's mate") carries a lot more weight than the scientifically verified (and replicated at the gunnery range at Pax River) use of unauthorized powder combinations with a 2700 pound projectile resulting in overpressure which blew out the breech, sending a tongue of fire down to the powder flats 3 decks below, and killing 47 seamen throughout the turret.

    It seems that, in our collective consciousness, the attractive and official lie beats the embarrassing (and in this case criminal) truth every time, especially when it comes to shaping opinion and confirming preconceived notions.

  93. New commenter here. Of 139 comments already I'm not sure what my contribution will be made of, but here's my 2 cents. So spend 'em how you will.

    I appreciate for our troops why Bergdahl's release is so difficult to wrap theirs heads around. I guess I see it as your Uncle just gotta outta rehab, but you know your Uncle is a repeat offender junkie and all that you can see coming is more falling off the wagon, followed by more rehab. You wince at the sight of him walking out those doors. But also, you know you're happy to see him doing better, even if it's only temporarily. And, of course, you never forget all that BS he does when he's out. But he's your Uncle so what are you gonna do? Say eff you Unc, I don't know you from Adam? Well... maybe some people would, but most of us know it'd be wrong.

    That said, I really do want to know what happened with Bergdahl. Did he desert? If so, why? Was he really disillusioned with the war? Was it his brothers in arms? Did he just hit his mind's breaking point? And, if he didn't desert, then what happened? Was he captured on some kind of walk or piss run? Was he lured or tricked out? And not being able to sift through the massive amounts of mostly misinformation makes it difficult for me to determine whether or not the trade was worth it.

    I hope that the CIC knows! But as much as I respect the man, I can't blindly substitute my feelings on the matter for his... Though I am vehemently opposed to leaving any of our people behind, regardless of whether or not they're someone we like. It's more than just loyalty for me, personally -- it's also because, if the guy is a traitor or deserter, then we as a country need to hold him accountable for his actions. We do. Not the Taliban. Not Al Qaeda or whoever we're fighting next. We should be the ones meting out justice to Bergdahl, if indeed justice is required.

    And the answers to those questions I have would help me decide, and I'm guessing it would help quite a few folks as well. Maybe. Maybe because a deep part of me wants to believe that it was worth it... that Bergdahl's release, that the idea that we never leave one of our own behind is worth any cost, that, if nothing else, Americans are never gonna stop being there for each other. (Even if we do screw over the rest of the world, which we seem to do pretty regularly, but I digress.) So, I guess we'll see, hopefully.

    1. "I hope that the CIC knows! "

      Please note that *that doesn't matter*. He was being held prisoner by the Taliban; Obama (or rather, his people) were able to arrange a swap.

  94. Jim - -
    No apologies needed ... you spoke truth with civility. Would that theose who have committed the 180s had the dignity to remember what they said back in 2009.
    An observation: If Senators McCain and Graham had secretely negotiated the young man's release, they would be held upas "wonderful, patriotic Americans with a grasp of foreign policy far beyond that of the Kenyan ursurper.

  95. Jim,
    Please let me weigh in. By background, I retired with two stars: the right ones, and an SO in front of them. 2.5 years, roughly, in AFG. That said: can't agree with you more. As for the Captain: respect, but he's mostly repeating talking points.

    On the "six" dead. First, we don't know that it's true. Second, if it's true, they died doing their mission: finding and closing with the enemy. Bergdahl, no Bergdahl, the infantry mission is to find and close with the enemy. We don't patrol enough--it's possible that by patrolling more, we came into contact more. That's how it's supposed to work.

    Just another random thought: I keep hearing/reading that Bergdahl thought the Army was going to be a Peace Corps like mission, and that perhaps he was a reluctant infantryman. It's also been reliably reported that he tried to join the French Foreign Legion. If there is a unit in the world less like the Peace Corps...it's the Legion. If you want to join it's either because you want a new passport, or you simply want the best shot at going out and killing someone.

    Great blog, great insights. Appreciated.

  96. I agree with anonymous here. The captain is repeating right wing Fox News talking points and those talking points do not even agree with the Army's own investigation five years ago when Bergdahl vanished. That report paints a picture of an incompetent unit, led by officers some of whom were relieved and that some of those deaths may have been from very different actual causes than the right wing press wants us to believe.

    This leaves me coming back to your first article - we don't know and we don't leave ours behind, ever. Yes, if Bowe Bergdahl deserves court martial and punishment then he'll get it. But did you know that desertion requires proof that someone left with intent never to return? Did you know that the Army report said that Bergdahl had done this before (walked off into the mountains) and always returned? Proving intent when he was captured is going to be pretty damned hard when the evidence shows that he previously had left yet returned.

    As for the allegations of aiding the enemy, they are just allegations. I too served and in sensitive positions that required high level clearance (clerical and computer programmer) and I can say pretty certainly that a lot of the "intel grapevine" rumors were nothing but someone's personal opinion and not the real deal.

    In the end, I can respect the captain's position because he presented it respectfully himself. I do not agree with it. And I think we all need to allow the investigation and legal processes to run their course. Instead, the radical right wing sociopaths are using this to try to attack the black man sitting in the White House... as usual. It is shameful and disgusting.

    1. Addendum to the post. You can find my response there. // Jim

  97. I am but one year ahead of you in life on this planet Jim and your assessment of how things were under the Carter administration and how we change for better or worse over the years relates heavily to me and painted by you so well.
    During that interminable period where our Embassy staff was held hostage, I too felt that Carter was spineless and worthless. I owned at that time a two tone primer gray and rust colored 1954 chevy pickup, no grill, just a huge 2"x12" beam of wood as my front bumper. The worn out straight 6 used 1 qt of 30wt oil per tank of fuel, meaning it emitted a steady fog of blue smoke that often was cause for a police pull over. Mind you, as many at the time, my hair was well past my shoulders, kept in check by a rolled bandanna acting as a head band. My fury hit an apex one night. Upon closing up the gas station where I worked, I grabbed a can of fluorescent orange paint and in huge, bold, bright 12" high letters sprayed "BOMB IRAN" clear across that front bumper.
    The reaction I received by motorist and pedestrians ran heavy to horn honking and thumbs up. The defining moment occurred while waiting, first in line, for a light to turn green at a huge intersection in Seattle. My rig emitting the usually stinking blue fog out the back. Ahead, facing the other way was a Washington State Patrol rig. I could see the mans gaze locked on me and my Mad Max looking rig, I thought for sure due to my hair, bandanna and smoking rig that a pull over was imminent, I even resigned myself to such and stashed my greenery in the secret hiding spot just in case.
    Light turned green, we both eased ahead going opposite ways, passing port to port as they say. As the Trooper went past me, with window down, he slowed and looked at me a gave a ramrod straight thumbs up and an ear to ear smile, leaving me in my smokey haze.
    Time did indeed change me and my ways in a good way and continues to do so. It is why what you write and share to us is so needed and sought by many of us who yearn for this world to move in a positive direction.
    I further have learned since that way back time with my old "54, that it is essential to look at both sides of all issues, even if I stand strong on one end. To agree to disagree, but with mutual respect. The fact that you write what you do and stand beside it is one thing. The fact that you open the aisle of dialog to others that respectfully disagree with you is entirely another thing. What you gave and offered to that Marine Captain was not only mutual respect, it was and is a measure that is nearly lost in America. You stand firm in your views, as much the Captain does, yet by doing what you do, you promote meaningful dialog which ultimately leads to meaningful solutions. It is what is lost in our country and to an extent our world. Until we can get back to that point of finding common ground, respectfully disagreeing yet willing to listen, things will continue to tailspin and collapse.
    This has been a bit wind-baggy but thank you Jim. You have the respect of many of us, that Marine Captain's as well.

  98. Thank for for Addendum.... I was one with no military experience that did not understand what they had to "assume" and why. You explained it well. I will reserve judgement on Captain, but as you, still agree America needed to get Bergdahl.

  99. There are no easy answers in very complex situations which is why we have established guideposts to grab and maintain us through the turbulence that surrounds us. We Do Not Leave Ours Behind. This is ours for the day.

  100. Thank you for keeping the cacophony of howler monkeys at bay, and helping to prevent the rest of us from devolving to that. It's one of the things I enjoy as a regular reader.

  101. There are always two sides to a story. Until we have heard - in complete detail - both sides, until the words have been weighted appropriately, and the evidence is presented we - the American people - have an incomplete picture colored by the media.

    We - the American people - seem to put ourselves in the position of judge and jury even before the facts have been presented. Why? Why must we have a firm, unshakeable opinion when we just don't know?

    I've withdrawn from discussing this situation for the most part, as it has become a partisan/political shouting match. And... we just don't know.

    I'll wait.

  102. The good Captain's tactical perspective is valid - and also the best thing the current narrative has going for it. With new articles that condemn Bergdahl coming in by the hour, this young man needs immediate voices of public support that call for moderation in public opinion; not the worst-case battlefield analysis brought back home as "the last I knew of him was..."

    Do you believe Bergdahl will know a moment's peace in whatever his life will become after all of this? Richard Jewell's shadow looms long over this story.

    Jeremy Middleton
    USA/USN, Ret.

    1. This. This this this.

      The very public character assassination before there's been time for an investigation - something that is going to be extremely difficult if not impossible to walk back - has been incredibly disturbing to watch.

    2. Too late for that, Jeremy -- the first raging death threats against him and his entire family have already come down the line: (Article from Huffington Post).

      Only slightly less depressing, but potentially more interesting is that the usual GOP loudmouths are so busy yelling loudly that We The People Deserve Answers About This Scandal that they fail to show up for the classified briefings on the topic...

  103. When I was a kid a Korean War Pow was released, Court Martialed, found guilty of co-operating with the enemy, dishonorably discharged, and memory fails me as to whether he did time or not. The thing is, this former officer was considered by most to be an arrogant asshole before, during, and after his captivity. Doesn't it follow then that there are bona fide heroes out there that are also assholes? I dunno, is convicting this guy because he might be a naive douchbag the way to go?

  104. Jim,

    Thank you for presenting several different viewpoints on this, both have been very informative. I think the one remaining sticking point that isn't articulated very well is (and I see this as very common) "where does the boundary lie?" Would we have sacrificed 10 marines to rescue him and bring him back? 100? Would we have traded 10 Taliban? The full contents of Gitmo? Just as the tactical point of view is necessary, and just as it is clearly the (I think correct) view that all soldiers should be found and returned... there is also a certain amount of tactical choice as to which to seek out and how many lives and resources to trade for the person. How do you think the balance fit in those terms, Jim? I have no reference point from which to judge here. I don't know what the risk math should be for something like this. If he was sincerely thought to be a traitor, or if he was sincerely thought to be innocent, does that change how many resources should be used to get him back? How much leeway is there in this assessment, prior to an actual investigation?

    (As a secondary question, if we really knew where he was, and know where the trade-offs will be sent, why do we not follow up the trade with a nice sky-present from a drone? 5 birds with one stone? Or can't we lo-jack them before we release them into the wild? :-P)


  105. having linked your oringinal piece on bowe bergdahl, i felt, in fairness i should post your "counterpoint" piece too. much of your commentary about respect and listening is something i have been trying to get across to both sides of our current great divide... and while i do respect the Marine Captain's point of view, i still feel, WE BRING OUR BOYS HOME. EVERY SINGLE ONE. i cannot fathom the horror of losing friends in a warzone. i am sorry that 6 young men died, in part, searching for mr bergdahl. however, that is part of their job. i cannot imagine that they would want, or their surviving relatives would want bowe to be left swinging in the wind, because he walked off his base.

  106. Aside from the reasoned conclusion about the situation surrounding Sgt. Bergdahl's release (and the Captain's response), the underlying problem is this: Attacking the president for each and everything he does has become the default response. For what? To sell advertising, I guess. This really is going to kill us all some day, but at least someone will have made a bunch of money destroying America.

    Reading this, and the previous essay is the antivenom; it gives me a glimmer of hope that one day we may again have nice things.

  107. For what its worth I understood your original meaning, Mr. Wright.

    I also don't think your anonymous Marine Captain needs to justify anything. Even if Bergdahl's motives prove to be forgivable he is still a still a guy who fucked up, a guy who's weight had to be borne by his comrades because he got preoccupied with things other than holding up his end, with terrible consequences all around. Under those circumstances, I don't expect your tribal brothers in the military to have anything more than a dismal view of Bergdahl.

    My take away from this entire issue is that one's opinion of Bergdahl, opinion about the terms of his repatriation, and opinion about the morally bankrupt carnival barkers hyping the story have to be regarded somewhat separately.

    --Medicine Man

  108. I understand the Captain's frustration with this situation. I also understand that no one knows how anyone else feels about this. I may have been a military guy, but not even my 20 years in the Army gives me perfect insight into the struggle this person deals with, day to day. Even if I thought he was "bitching and moaning" (to borrow some choice vernacular) or "preaching the gospel truth," I don't begrudge him his soapbox. He's presenting his personal opinion informed by his unique perspective; as long as he keeps his feelings from unduly influencing his command, so be it. The more pressing problem, for me, is the easy way partisan operators turned, not only on SGT Bergdahl, but on the president for completing his duty and the SGT's parents for...what? I don't know. Certain news organizations and politicians apparently have no problem whatsoever with the childish and ugly way they are presenting this course of actions. Have the balls to stand by your messages of congratulations for the return of a soldier, regardless of the way he was lost. He needs to have his story told here, under our control and guidance. Do they really want to have a litmus test for who is worth the efforts of retrieval? The Captain has his reasons for or against that operation, fine. 24/7 news pundits and talking heads should have limited choice of which soldiers should be left and which should be brought back. And then, like schoolyard bullies, they want to condemn a soldier because his dad had less than disgusting things to say about the peoples and cultures of the region! He did not "speak Taliban" anymore than someone in this country speaks Timothy McVeigh. Let's not get into how a long unshorn beard is all of a sudden the antithesis to 'Mer'ca-ism. Is freedom of expression, cultural respect, and the ability to think differently now a bad thing? I appreciate the work the government and its personnel did to ensure we continue to save our people, then figure out the appropriate response to their actions. Our civilian leaders have a lot to learn from this thing, but I'm fearful that they won't, no matter what.

  109. Seems to me that either way we wanted him back.

    If he is innocent then we wanted back because he is an American.

    Or if he is a traitor then we want him back to face justice.

    My own reading of the situation is that neither is true, he was sneaking out to bring black market goods into camp, possibly drugs or he had a local love interest.

    As for the 5 we gave back, emptying Gitmo has been a problem and it's been a problem because Congress has stonewalled the president on any solution he's suggested. For those in Congress to have offered no solution for 5 years for emptying out that legal quagmire of a prison, they are in no place to complain about the disposition of those prisoners now.

  110. When the counterpoint was first posted I had time to read it but not comment on it. Now I have a spare moment I'd like to thank you, Jim for posting it. I'd also like to thank the Marine for laying out his views succinctly and clearly. You've both got very good points and given me much to consider. While I think I'm going to withhold judgement of Bergdahl and the circumstances surrounding his release. In this great age of instant communication we expect instant answers and forget that some things have to unfold in their own time It's early days yet, and so much is still unknown.

  111. The Capitan states: "If I were to walk off from my trusted place of duty, join the enemy, and conspire to kill my brothers, how many Taliban would I be worth? Exactly zero."

    Sorry but (tactical and strategic issues of psyop and enemy propaganda / recruitment aside) I must respectfully, decently, disagree for one simple reason.

    That reason is: "Conviction"

    The CWO, the Capitain and I, we ALL swore to uphold the Constitution. The Constitution is strict and firm about the fact that all men, and women, are innocent until proved guilty in a court of law or, in this case, a military hearing. The simple fact is that Bergdahl hasn't been convicted so we _can not_ treat him as if he were already convicted without violating the very Constitution we have sworn to defend.

    So yes, you would be worth an exchange. So is he, and now it's time for a trial. There are accusation, they need to be heard. If he if found guilty then we cannot wimp out and just send him to Leavenworth, we have to put him against a wall and go through with a firing squad.

    But before that can happen there has to be a fair, unbiased trial... otherwise we may as well tear up the Constitution and leave behind anyone who we _think_ might have done something.

  112. Very nicely put together piece, and site. It's refreshing to read civil discourse in these times of constant shrieking.

  113. REMINDER: I'd like to remind everyone who is glad to see our very civil discourse in this comment section that what we're seeing are only the approved, and therefore rational, replies.

    We have no idea how many rabid, screaming, hateful and hysterical ones are being round-filed with each and every passing hour.

    Thanks Jim, not only for taking the hours of time and heart that it took to write both these pieces but for the real work. That being hour after hour of wading through the kind of disgusting freak-out-machine, knee jerk / asshat, rabid hate comments and weeding them out so that the rest of us are spared from having to read that kind of evil, disgusting hatred.

    We know it exists... perhaps one day there should be an exhibit of such comments assembled all in one place so that normal human beings can see what the extremists really say, but that those normal human beings normally never see.

  114. The hell with all that. Fox has focused the laser beam of truth on this whole matter since Bergdahl went walk about. But, I wanna know what Bergdahl did with the Lindbergh baby, and admit he killed JFK, Marilyn Monroe and John Lennon. We already know that the Taliban flew him to Benghazi to terminate Chris Stevens and the three others with extreme Jihadi prejudice.

    But, the most insidious plot cooked up by his Pashtun brain washers is that Obama is gonna bring him Congress at the next SOTU speech. When the Muslim/Kenyan/Nazi/POTUS speaks the sacred code words "dirka dirka muhammad jihad" Bowe Bergdhal will pull a River Tam on every red blooded, Real Merkin Tea Party Patriot Congressman and Senator, bathing the joint session in blood and launching the long awaited UN dominion over us all. I hear the FEMA work camps are comfy. Its true. It was all on FNC.

    Cause that makes just as much sense as the whole last week of breathless fantasy Rightie Rat Fucking of young Bergdahl, his family and the White House. I respect Jim and the correspondents who attempt to bring serious analysis and counter point to the Bergdahl issue. But come on! There is no reasoning with these mouth breathing fuck tards until they have squeezed all the stink out of every self righteous anti-Obama turd laid on their desks.

    Three years from now Bowe Bergdhal will sink into obscurity like Jessica Lynch and Lynddie England. But until after November 8, 2016 he will be paraded across FNC and Rightie screens and pages and associated with every anti-Obama and Hillary story that can be fabricated. And that is a lot. Tommy D

  115. I find the Captain's response interesting, in that he says Bergdahl's location has been known for some time (and how many guards, etc.) and that we could have sent in a rescue team to get him anywhere along that timeline. If that's the case, that information would have been available to the administration. Why, then, would the administration have talked to Qatar at all about a possible swap--which it had done at an earlier date and then again recently? If this intel were available and we could grab Bergdahl whenever we wished, why would we bother discussing a swap at all?

    Those two things fail to mesh in any reasonable fashion.We're not going to talk a swap if we can simply take our man back.

    1. Because it never is that simple.

      Because somebody, i.e. SEALs or the equivalent, would have to go in and get him out, risking both Bergdahl's life and their own. Risking intel sources. Risking his captors moving him if the rescue didn't work. Risking seeing him slaughtered on the six o'clock news as punishment for a failed rescue attempt. None of this should be a surprise, we've been watching this shit on the news for forty years now.

      Real life isn't like a movie. Chuck Norris doesn't jump out of an airplane and kung fu the bad guys one at a time while the rest stand around waiting their turn, the world doesn't wait for Chuck to make some kind of squinty-eyed tough guy remark about America and ride to victory on a rocket powered motorcycle shooting red white and blue bottle rockets out of his ass.

      Real life, things go to shit. Helicopters crash. The intel is bad. They shoot the hostage at the first sign of attack. SEALs die.

      If the president had the option to risk more lives or get Bergdahl back without that risk, well, the correct answer should be obvious. At least I hope it is.

    2. Another possibility is another version of Jim's "life is complicated" approach.

      Hypothetical: Say he did walk out intentionally. Do you risk lives to go get him or do you wait to see if there is a lower risk way? You might risk lives to retrieve someone who was taken against their will but if you know someone walked out of their own free will then you might be less willing to risk lives, and so look for another way.

      I'm not sure, but I wonder if there is anything to the fact that he's the very last POW to be recovered. I don't know if there is anything to it or not, but what if the government worked on getting the people who were held against their will first?

      Now for the life's complicated part... did we all suddenly forget that President Obama was being bashed by some on the right for leaving an American POW behind? Guess which one.

      Now that he's back they go from bashing the President for not getting him to bashing the President FOR getting him because he might not be shiny and perfect.

      I have personal friends with PTSD whom we worry will eat their own bullet on any given day. A flashback while half asleep caused my Special Forces Medic uncle to almost kill his own son, who was just 4 years old at the time. Other people with PTSD and war related issues have killed civilians before, many times.

      Maybe he did walk out of his own free will... but what is undisputed is that he was not always that F'd up. The meat grinder that this country tossed him into F'd him up, and did it but good.

      First a trial. Then, if he did desert, a last meal and a firing squad __with dignity__.

      Yea, dignity. Because whatever F'd him up badly enough that he walked away is something he got F'd up by because WE SENT HIM THERE.

      Point: Strong, decent people don't confuse going through with doing the right things such as prisoner exchanges, a fair trial and potential firing squad with the things that weak, hysterical and stupid people do such as screaming, demonizing, vilifying and spitting on those who have not even had a trial yet.

      And anyone who thinks we can send people into a meat grinder and then spit on them for doing bad things after they got F'd in the meat grinder WE sent them into... well maybe THOSE politicians and armchair quarterbacking know-it-alls without-a-clue are the people who should be dropped off...

      ... and left behind.

  116. Thank you for the Addendum Jim.
    I certainly understand a little better, and that makes complete sense to me.
    I find that if I turn off the news, put down the paper and log off of Facebook, I can read your posts, spend some time thinking, digesting, and soon I find that I just get it.
    Not you, but whatever situation it is that you're writing about.

    The seething rage that a few of my friends are showing over this, and using Benghazi as the comparison is driving me mad.

    Thanks for being a clear voice in a bog of murky half truths.

  117. Everyone should read the Rolling Stone article from June 7, 2012 by Michael Hastings, " America's Last Prisoner of War". I get a more complete picture of just what was going on during this time in the war in Afghanistan - it colors in lots of the blank spaces for me.
    Bowe was behaving a lot like a home schooled child who has been removed from the harsh reality of young male social interaction and has missed learning about those primitive behaviors of playground and locker room ( a bit like Tim Tebow).
    It is interesting to me that during this time, many Republicans were calling for the rescue of this POW. I still think that Obama was " set up" in a way. Damned if he did it and damned if he didn't. I think either way, he would have been made a villian and labeled as " unpatriotic".

  118. Jim –

    Just as crucial to those interested in the Bergdahl case as hearing from both you and the Captain is (re-)reading the Rolling Stone article called “America’s Last Prisoner of War” written by the late Michael Hastings and published June 7, 2012:


    It contains numerous, specific examples of some topics I haven’t seen addressed in your posts or their comments – perhaps because they are VERY touchy subjects: the obstacles Bergdahl encountered after joining the military including false promises, social ostracism, sub-standard performance and a shocking lack of discipline.

    They suggest yet another reason for both Bergdahl's alleged desertion AND the angry condemnation of him as a "traitor": to distract from how the military failed him.

    Necessary disclaimers: I’ve not served but I hold your service in high regard, I mean no insult whatsoever, and all that follows is based on Hastings’ report.

    “[W]hat Bowe found in the Army, according to his parents, was a ‘deception’ – one that started from the moment he was recruited. Bowe had been enticed to join the Army, they say, with the promise that he would be going overseas to help Afghan villagers rebuild their lives and learn to defend themselves – ‘the whole COIN thing,’ says Bob, citing the shorthand for America's strategy of counterinsurgency. ‘We were given a fictitious picture, an artificially created picture of what we were doing in Afghanistan.”

    Was it naive of all three Bergdahls to believe the military was doing “Peace Corps work”? That depends on what Bowe’s recruiters told him.

    When I commented on an earlier post about questionable recruitment tactics, Jim, you responded with the reasons you joined – all noble and patriotic, which I respect to the point of envy. Unaddressed, however, was the reality of precisely how America’s military recruiters, faced with providing enough personnel for unnecessary wars in two far-off hellholes, encouraged young men and women to join up. Again (disclaimer, disclaimer) I have NO first-hand knowledge about this, and I fear that I risk your ire for mentioning it ... but it IS a salient point:

    “The prolonged aspect of the war was also forcing the Pentagon to send more and more recruits who were unprepared and undisciplined, like Bowe's unit. To meet its recruiting goals, the Army had lowered its standards for intellectual aptitude, and allowed more waivers for recruits with felony convictions and drug problems. "One of every five recruits required a waiver to join the service, leading military analysts to conclude that the Army has lowered its standards," Col. Jeffrey McClain wrote in a definitive study for the Army War College in 2008, the year many in Bowe's unit joined up.”

    (more -- comment had to be split up due to length)

    1. PART TWO:

      Another unaddressed topic is the “pack mentality” endemic to the military, i.e. how well one “fits in.”

      “At first, according to soldiers in his unit, Bowe seemed to embrace Army life. ‘He showed up, looked like a normal Joe,’ says former Specialist Jason Fry, who is now studying for a master's in theology. "When he first got to the unit, he was the leadership's pet. He read the Ranger Handbook like no other. Some people resented him for it ...”

      “Bowe earned the nickname ‘SF,’ short for Special Forces – but it wasn't a compliment ... [A] captain stationed in North Carolina, recalls Bowe as "quiet. He wasn't one of the troublemakers – he was focused and well-behaved." ...[Bowe] did exercises with his cumbersome 15-pound machine gun as though he were curling weights at the gym. "We saw him, and were like, 'Whoa, Mr. Intensity.' ..."

      Were those who served with Bergdahl and are now publicly dissing him among those who “resented him”? Either way, it’s interesting to note upon what that resentment was based:

      “Bowe kept to himself, doing physical training on his own. ‘He never hung out with anyone, always in the background, never wanted to be in front of anything,’ says Fry. He surrounded himself with piles of books, including Three Cups of Tea, about a humanitarian crusade to educate girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as instructions on Zen meditation and an introductory ethics handbook with writings from Aristotle, Augustine, Kant and Hume.”

      My viewpoint is likely colored by my own life experiences but it sure sounds to me like Bergdahl’s desire to be the best soldier he could be was met with derision and exclusion from those with whom he served.

      Another under-reported aspect here is that Bergdahl seems to have served in units notable for their ineptitude and lack of discipline. For example, his time at the National Training Center in Southern California was documented in by a second lieutenant in his unit, Stephen Fancey:

      “In his blog posts, which have since been removed from the Web, Fancey detailed a unit that seemed to have almost no discipline. The company's first sergeant, Fancey wrote, ‘calls the Captain a quitter, then calls me a quitter. Picture a 2nd LT screaming at a 1SG, who is screaming back in broken Puerto-Rican-fied English, and about 5 Privates sitting quietly in terror.’ As the combat simulations continued, the sergeant's behavior grew even more disturbing. He refused to go to the bathroom, preferring to pee into a Gatorade bottle by his bed, and he obsessed over his desire for a Diet Coke. After one botched operation, according to Fancey's blog, the first sergeant just gave up. ‘I need a Coca-Cola,’ he said. Then, upset at how screwed up the operation had become, he tore off his body armor and stormed off to his tent, screaming, ‘Fuck 'dis 'chit!’”

      According to Hastings, such confusion may have come from the top:

      “By that spring, when Bowe's unit arrived, the entire U.S. policy in Afghanistan appeared to be in chaos from the top down. President Obama had just fired Gen. David McKiernan, replacing him with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and there was no longer a clear strategy in place ...

      “Bowe's platoon of some 25 men – under-manned by more than a third – was sent to a small combat outpost called Mest-Malak ..."

      (end part 2 of 3)


      The events leading up to Bergdahl’s “desertion” seem worth including here (along with apologies for the lengthy comment) because they contextualize his decision AND also provide strong argument against the claims of "Traitor!":

      “The discipline problems that had plagued Bowe's unit back home only got worse when immersed in the fog of war. From the start, everything seemed to go wrong. In April, Lt. Fancey was removed from his post for clashing with a superior officer. He was replaced by Sgt. 1st Class Larry Hein, who had never held such a command – a move that left the remote outpost with no officers. According to four soldiers in the battalion, the removal of Fancey was quickly followed by a collapse in unit morale and an almost complete breakdown of authority.

      “The unruly situation was captured by Sean Smith, a British documentary filmmaker with The Guardian who spent a month embedded with Bowe's unit. His footage shows a bunch of soldiers who no longer give a shit: breaking even the most basic rules of combat, like wearing baseball caps on patrol instead of helmets ...

      “In early June ... Bowe's unit got reamed out by its commander for its lack of discipline. Bowe's squad leader, Sgt. Greg Leatherman, was demoted, and two other sergeants in the squad were reassigned ... As often happens in the Army, senior officers were going unpunished for screw-ups like the MRAP mission, while lower-ranking men paid the price for minor infractions.

      “The unit, for its part, continued to bungle even the most basic aspects of military duty. During the last week of June, the platoon spent a day resupplying at Forward Operating Base Sharana. When someone in the unit lost his weapon, everyone in the platoon had to drop what they were doing and look for it. To make matters worse, on an earlier trip to Sharana, 10 members of the platoon had been poached to pull guard duty at another base, leaving the unit even more undermanned than usual.

      “Then, on June 25th, Bowe's battalion suffered its first casualty of the deployment. A popular officer, 1st Lt. Brian Bradshaw, was killed in a blast from a roadside bomb near the village of Yaya Kheyl, not far from the outpost ... Bowe's father believes that Bradshaw and Bowe had grown close at the National Training Center, and his death darkened his son's mood ... On June 27th, [Bowe] sent what would be his final e-mail to his parents. It was a lengthy message documenting his complete disillusionment with the war effort ...

      “Three good sergeants, Bowe said, had been forced to move to another company, and ‘one of the biggest shit bags is being put in charge of the team.’ His battalion commander was a ‘conceited old fool.’ The military system itself was broken: ‘In the US army you are cut down for being honest... but if you are a conceited brown nosing shit bag you will be allowed to do what ever you want, and you will be handed your higher rank... The system is wrong. I am ashamed to be an american. And the title of US soldier is just the lie of fools.’ The soldiers he actually admired were planning on leaving: ‘The US army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at. 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.’

      (one more section below -- danged character limits!)

    3. PART FOUR (final):

      “On June 27th, at 10:43 p.m., Bob Bergdahl responded to his son's final message not long after he received it. His subject line was titled: 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.’ He signed it simply ‘dad.’”

      Assuming Hastings' article is fair and accurate, it contains NOTHING which supports the accusation that Bergdahl is a traitor. Rather, it portrays a young, idealistic man who felt betrayed by the military in which he enlisted.

      Again, Jim, I respect and admire your service, I’m a regular Stonekettle reader and I mean NO insult by raising these issues. They are, I imagine, too complex, subtle and/or easily dismissed by the anti-Bergdahl crowd as “airy-fairy” to hold much sway in the vituperative debate which now rages.

      And yet, as uncomfortable and even potentially convoluting as they may be, they ARE part of “the truth.”

    4. I promise to keep my response short...no more than two parts. KIDDDING!

      A couple decades ago one of the maxims I learned about business management is: "It is ALWAYS a management problem." The specific point here, the one Grrrr! raised in part, is a bad employee is the fault of the manager. You hired him. You kept him onboard. You didn't see to training properly. You did not move him out when you had the opportunity.

      I don't know the reality of what Grrrr! cited about the units Bergdahl was in. It doesn't matter, really. Somewhere, somehow, much like in the VA post of Jim's, the system screwed up.

      Among all the intel Jim cited, maybe, just maybe, someone can also learn what happened with the system. Except I expect Jim can probably tell us right now. Because just like with the VA this did not happen overnight. It has happened time and time again, I suspect.

      Of all the lines in the movie, "A Few Good Men", the telling one was when the one marine told the other they were supposed to have protected the marine that got killed. Someone, somewhere, was supposed to have protected Bergdahl. Not in the same sense as in the movie, but in the sense that he appears to have been the wrong person in the wrong place.

      (I know. I know. War is hell and all that. Suck it up, etc. A wrong guy in the wrong place gets people killed. That is the kind of wrong I mean, not the "I really don't like it here." wrong.)

    5. Here's a link (from January 14, 2014), where photographer Sean Smith talks about the time he personally spent with Bergdahl. Note that his comments were made MONTHS ago. There are Guardian links elsewhere to Smith's documentation of the war that you might find interesting.



  119. Thank you for both the original and the follow-up post. I was not familiar with your site but after browsing through a few posts I know I will be back. I will proably comment further and agree as well as disagree but I'm good at following rules it's the OCD. Thank you again for two very thoughtful comments from someone who for a very long time has refused to live in fear, and always sees the world in it's magnificent colors never black and white.

  120. Jim-I especially appreciate your point of view about the 6 fallen soldiers.

    "Those six dead men, along with all the others who fell in this shitty war, are indeed the price we Americans paid. They are the price Bergdahl’s unit paid. They’re the price Bergdahl paid, intentionally or not.

    Watching those dead soldiers’ bodies be dragged through the streets of the media by self-serving politicians and media pundits and the shouting mob on both sides of the aisle disgusts me."

    My son fell in this shitty war (Iraq) and I keep trying to decide if I would be able to blame one soldier, in this case- Bowe Bergdahl. While I give a wide berth and try not to judge any Gold Star family who is just trying to survive after the death of their troop, I am having difficulty with this scenario- that Bergdahl is the cause of their loved one's death. Wouldn't any troop's death be the result of Bergdahl's "disappearance" after that day in 2009? I can't go there.

    If the families truly feel this way, that is their decision, but war sucks and war is ugly and war kills randomly and without mercy. When I was told that my son was killed in Iraq, I screamed at the Notification Officer- "Of course he was, he was at war!-" That is what happens!

    The bloodthirsty nut job media does not care about these families, they just don't. They care about their ratings and they care about how badly they can make the President look. When the next shiny story comes along (oh look, Benghazi!) those families will be tossed aside without a thought, to try and get back on that grief journey all alone. Can you imagine Walter Cronkite treating a guest like this? So-called journalists of today should be ashamed, but they do not know that word or even that emotion. and they are not really journalists, not real ones anyway.

    Thank you for your wisdom and grace throughout this whole story, Jim. The journalists of today should take note.

  121. I read and very carefully considered every word -- yours and the Marine Captain's. Thanks to both of you for your service and Thank God for the United States Marines.

  122. I found your posts on this so interesting that I did a post on my blog with links to the post "Negotiating with Terrorists" and to your blog. That way my readers (both of them) can follow the links and read your posts if they so desire.

    I agree with your posts on this subject. My feelings on this are: Bring them home and then sort out the details of how and why they were taken prisoner. This should not be a political football. The truth will eventually come out and then we will know what really happened.

    This like almost everything else these days has been a no-win situation for Obama. As recently as a few months ago, pundits and politicians were saying Obama should everything possible including prisoner swaps to get Bergdahl home. Now those same pundits and politicians are saying he should have never swapped any prisoners for Bergdahl. Like I said no-win.

  123. I have two questions as someone with no history of military service but a the same long memory of US history which stretches back in my lifetime to the Vietnam War, the Iran hostage crisis, the Contras. First, and I've not heard anyone mention this: with the winding down of the Afghanistan War, could part of Obama's aim be to recoup intel from Bergdahl, who has been with the Taliban for five years however you slice it and might know something useful when he is debriefed? Or is that a very naive thought? And second-it was mentioned in the first post-how on earth do you explain to anyone under 35 or so the complexities of feeling and thought and knowlege about the relationship of the US government and military to terrorist who have somehow not heard about Nicaragua, the Contras, the death squads there that killed American nuns with impunity and our help-and their civilians. Who do not know what the Vietnam War looked like to our own citizens who watched the death counts helplessly every night on TV and understood that it was not our war. How do you educate anyone or even bring up that Reagan aided and abetted terrorists on several continents? And, I want to respecfully disagree with what I think was the suggestion that only servicemen will bear the consequences of this trade. Every time war gets ramped up one way or the other, either overseas or in the media and in Congress, there are real material consequences to the entire country. Other people suffer, perhaps not as directly and not in actual blood immediately, but in countless ways for decades to come. That's my thought. We are all suffering from the decision, as you said, that 3,000 lives lost on 911 were worth 6,000 Americans killed, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis, and tens of thousands of Americans crippled. Also the crippling of our economy, which cost lives which have not been counted. I've said enough. Hopefully respectfully enough. And no, I don't begrudge any soldier his anger. I do begrudge the spin-mongers and hate-mongers theirs, especially the ones who got us into this in the first place.

  124. Addendum re above: How to educate people about those things so that it might inform this discussion and deepen it, not to detract from it. Because it is relevant. Sorry. Not sure if that was clear.

  125. Jim...thanks again for a wonderful post...As I read your original post, I got to thinking about our enlisted sons and daughters...who are they??? where do they come from??? then I discovered ERNIE PYLE...oh, I knew the name but never bothered to look at or read Ernie....oh, boy was I ever wrong...I am "binging" on his writings right now...and not to sound, ah hem, like I was comparing you to Ernie or anything, but, I think you would have made him proud...same ethos...succinct and measured thoughts...the honesty and clarity he and you bring to the fore of our thoughts...thanks...JOURNALISM IS NOT DEAD, it's just hiding on the net...


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