The Bowe Bergdahl case and an incoming slap on the hand

By Ray Starmann

http://media.silive.com/latest_news/photo/bowe-bergdahl-0a6bb8dc2a9271d4.jpg

An Army officer’s recommendation on whether Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl should face a court-martial for leaving his post in Afghanistan six years ago will remain secret for now.

Lt. Col. Mark Visger presided over last month’s Article 32 hearing in Texas that reviewed evidence against Bergdahl. Visger submitted a report with his recommendation on Monday, but the Army hasn’t said what Visger recommended.

Bergdahl is charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

Gen. Robert Abrams, the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command, will ultimately decide whether the case should be referred to a court-martial.

Bergdahl’s attorney, Eugene Fidell, says Visger’s report should be made public.

A U.S. Army Forces Command spokesman declined to comment on Visger’s report. No timeline has been given for a decision from Abrams.

Mr. Fidell, claims that the Army officer who did the Article 32 investigation of Bergdahl has recommended that Bergdahl be tried by a “special,” as opposed to a “general” court martial and that he receive no jail time for his offense. A “general” court martial can impose the death penalty, a dishonorable discharge, or a prison term in excess of one year; whereas a “special” court is limited to various punishments not to exceed a year in prison.

Bergdahl’s attorneys are not correct when they say that a special court martial is just a “misdemeanor” court. The power to strip a non-commissioned officer of his stripes and reduce him to the lowest military rank, to confine him in a jail cell for a year, and then give him a bad-conduct discharge from the service is not the same as suspending a driver’s license for 30 days in traffic court. And yet, for the soldiers from Bergdahls’ platoon and squad, this Article 32 recommendation, if it was actually made and is accepted, will be yet another blow to their service pride and their morale.

Simply put, Bowe Bergdahl committed a mortal sin in the eyes of his fellow soldiers and the US Army. He deserted his post in a combat zone and contacted the enemy. His situation forced the President to conduct a horrific deal with the Taliban, exchanging five known terrorists for Bergdahl. In fairness to Mr. Obama, he was doing his duty as commander in chief by bringing back an American soldier from captivity, no matter what the circumstances were.

Bergdahl should receive a general court martial to insure that he is eligible to receive punishment equal to the grave offense he committed.

US Defense Watch also believes that Bergdahl should be found guilty of desertion. He should be reduced in rank from sergeant down to private. Why he was promoted to sergeant in 2011, two years after he deserted is another story entirely. He should receive a dishonorable discharge and a sentence of five years in Fort Leavenworth. In consideration that he was imprisoned and tortured during his Taliban captivity, those five years can be lessened to time served.

But, that will probably not happen. Most likely, Bergdahl will receive a special court martial and a Bad Conduct Discharge, which would allow Bergdahl to receive VA benefits.

The Bergdahl case is itself a symptom of many internal problems in the Army now which include moral cowardice, corruption and irresponsibility.

The Army must do the right thing and try Bowe Bergdahl by a general court martial.