Hot Topic: What is Bergdahl Guilty Of?
This past week, Bowe Bergdahl participated in his AR 15-6 hearings at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. These hearings were conducted to help the military determine an answer to the question that everyone has been waiting for: Did he, or did he not, desert his post? Whether he willingly walked into the hands of the Taliban is an entirely separate issue, though the hearing on Thursday addressed that issue, too.
Back in 2012, Rolling Stone suggestively questioned the moral authority of America’s military when it asked, “Will the Pentagon leave a man behind?” Using the military’s ethos against itself, the writer challenged whether America placed a greater value on the convenience of ending war negotiations or on upholding its long-standing tradition to rescue any man left behind, whether dead or alive. In this case, a stickier moral challenge existed in that evidence suggested that the man in question, Bergdahl, may have left himself behind entirely of his own volition. Can you really leave behind a man who chose to leave the group?
“When one of your shipmates goes overboard, you go get them,” former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in quoting an admiral immediately after Delta Force recovered Bergdahl. “You don’t ask whether he jumped or he was pushed or he fell. You go get him first and then you find out,” he concluded, thus effectively rendering the moral dilemma of whether the U.S. should have rescued Bergdahl moot, regardless of his deserter status.
Reports from late last week state that Bergdahl seemed “in good spirits” after concluding his first round of questioning, though the reports come directly from his lawyer, Eugene Fiddell, who is undoubtedly not the most reliable source of how questioning went for Bergdahl at this stage in the case. Nothing yet suggests that investigators will submit Bergdahl to another round of questioning. However, his investigating officer, Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl, can question Bergdahl further as part of his enquiry. Despite Fiddell’s affirmation of Bergdahl’s good spirits, the blogosphere and social media have widely pronounced Bergdahl’s guilt.
But, of what is Bergdahl guilty?
Abandoning one’s post is indicative of a moral failing, a failure to fulfill one’s obligations or promises. But, if the perpetrator discerns that the obligation requires unethical or immoral acts, then is abandoning his post still a moral failing?
The military investigation will not determine an answer to the complex nature of morality of Bergdahl’s action, assuming that he did leave of his own free will. The investigator will, however, use strictly defined legal code, known as the Uniformed Military Code of Justice (UCMJ), to define Bergdahl’s violations, if any, and the consequences that would result from said violations.
The investigation will conclude in mid-August. The report regarding the investigation should be released approximately one month after the report is concluded. A review of the UCMJ provides a host of potential violations that Bergdahl may be charged with. These include the following:
- Article 85: Desertion—This applies to someone who leaves a place of duty to either avoid hazardous duty or to leave his place of duty with the intention of remaining away permanently. Given that Bergdahl left a relatively secure duty post and entered into a Taliban-infested region, avoiding hazardous duty seems an unlikely charge, but choosing to leave and remain away permanently remains unknown.
- Article 86: Absent without Leave—This one seems pretty cut-and-dry, as it essentially refers to a service member who does not go, or who leaves from, a place of duty at a time prescribed without permission. However, we don’t know if he was lured or forced away from his place of duty.
- Article 99: Misbehavior before the Enemy—This applies to someone who abandons a place of duty he is entrusted to defend; it also applies to someone who actively attempts to encounter the enemy, and someone who casts away his arms. We know that Bergdahl did not leave his place of duty with his weapon, but it is as of yet unclear why he did not have his weapon with him.
- Article 104: Aiding the Enemy—This would apply if Bergdahl knowingly gave information to the enemy.
- Article 113: Misbehavior of a Sentinel or Lookout—This applies to someone who leaves his post before relieved of duty.
If, however, Bergdahl received an Article 15, a non-judicial punishment from his Commanding Officer, then the terms of punishment would be far more lenient than death. He could possibly receive a detention-in-quarters, a demotion, a reduction in pay, a forfeiture of pay for up to one year, reduction in rations (bread and water only, for example), and extra duties.
Fidell, a military law expert, said his client is a “pretty tough hombre.” Indeed, Bergdahl has been through a harrowing ordeal over the past five years, but we’ll see how tough he is if the investigator’s report deems his guilty.