In his hometown of Hailey, Idaho, signs celebrate Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s release after he was held for five years by the Taliban. But there is concern, especially in military circles, about whether Bergdahl should be welcomed as a hero, or punished as a deserter.
It is widely believed that Bergdahl walked off the base where he was stationed in Afghanistan in 2009. CBS News’ David Martin reports that one Pentagon official described him as “at worst, a deserter. At best, a stupid kid who caused us to expend great energy and resources to bring him home.”
A Pentagon investigation concluded in 2010 that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl walked away from his unit, and after an initial flurry of searching the military decided not to exert extraordinary efforts to rescue him, the AP reported Monday, citing a former senior defense official who was involved in the matter.
The former Pentagon official told the AP it was “incontrovertible” that he walked away from his unit.
The military investigation was broader than a criminal inquiry, this official said, and it didn’t formally accuse Bergdahl of desertion. In interviews, members of his unit portrayed him as a naive, “delusional” person who thought he could help the Afghan people by leaving his army post, the official said.
Former members of Bergdahl’s unit have taken to the airwaves and social mediacalling him a deserter and alleging other soldiers were actually killed searching for him.
Josh Korder, a former sergeant in Bergdahl’s unit, has the names of those soldiers tattooed on his body.
“They were never nationally televised for their sacrifices in the way that he is and he pretty much voluntarily walked away and in turn, caused, you know, the actions that may have killed them,” Korder told CNN.
Nathan Bradley Bethea, who served as an officer in Bergdahl’s unit, said in an article Monday on the Daily Beast website that Bergdahl was not on patrol, as some reports have suggested.
“There was no patrol that night,” he wrote. “Bergdahl was relieved from guard duty, and instead of going to sleep, he fled the outpost on foot. He deserted. I’ve talked to members of Bergdahl’s platoon – including the last Americans to see him before his capture. I’ve reviewed the relevant documents. That’s what happened.”In his piece, Bethea named six American soldiers he said were killed in the search for Bergdahl.
“For the veterans of the units that lost these men, Bergdahl’s capture and the subsequent hunt for him will forever tie to their memories, and to a time in their lives that will define them as people,” Bethea wrote. “He has finally returned. Those men will never have the opportunity.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel declined to comment on earlier reports that the sergeant had walked away from his unit, disillusioned with the war. Such matters “will be dealt with later,” Hagel said.
Hagel, visiting troops in Afghanistan, was met with silence when he told a group of them in a Bagram Airfield hangar: “This is a happy day. We got one of our own back.”
Rolling Stone magazine quoted emails Bergdahl is said to have sent to his parents that suggest he was disillusioned with America’s mission in Afghanistan, had lost faith in the U.S. Army’s mission there and was considering desertion.
Bergdahl told his parents he was “ashamed to even be American.” Bergdahl, who mailed home boxes containing his uniform and books, also wrote: “The future is too good to waste on lies. And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong.”
Detractors have created a Facebook page called “Bowe Bergdahl is NOT a hero.” There is also a petition calling for Bergdahl to be court martialed for desertion. “Bring punishment to Bowe Bergdahl and let the public know that the military holds all members to the same standard,” the petition reads.
Back in his Idaho hometown, CBS News’ Bigad Shaban reports how Bergdahl’s supporters in the tight-knit community are preparing a hero’s welcome. The annual “Bring Bowe Back” rally later this month has been turned into a celebration now called “Bowe IS Back.”
Questions about his capture, supporters told Shaban, aren’t their concern.
“He did his best to be an Army soldier,” said Sue Martin, the owner of Zaney’s River Street Coffee House, where Bergdahl used to work. “He’s done enough after five years.”