What began as a debate over negotiating with terrorists escalated Monday into anger among many armed services members at the attention being given to Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a man who reportedly fled his post five years ago only to be captured by Afghan insurgents.
Bergdahl was freed Saturday in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees. His release was celebrated at first by Washington politicians, including Republicans, though many felt the United States had broken its longstanding policy
of not negotiating with terrorists.
By Monday, that had all changed. Soldiers who served with Bergdahl said they were outraged at the possibility he would be accorded a hero's welcome. He is anything but, they said.
CNN, Rolling Stone, and other media reminded Americans that at least six soldiers were killed in subsequent searches for Bergdahl in rugged Paktika Province in the ensuing days and weeks after he deserted.
The six men reportedly killed while searching for Bergdahl were identified by CNN as Staff Sgt. Clayton Bowen and Pfc. Morris Walker on Aug. 18, 2009; Staff Sgt. Kurt Curtiss on Aug. 26; 2nd Lt. Darryn Andrews and Pfc. Matthew Michael Martinek on Sept. 4; and Staff Sgt. Michael Murphrey on Sept. 5.
"He walked off," said former Pfc. Jose Baggett, a former comrade. "He left his guard post. Nobody knows if he defected, or he’s a traitor, or he was kidnapped. What I do know is he was there to protect us, and instead he decided to defer from America and go and do his own thing. I don’t know why he decided to do that, but we spent so much of our resources, and some of those resources were soldiers’ lives."
Bergdahl walked away from his base, reportedly without a weapon, in June 2009 and was captured by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network.
Moreover, CNN reported
that soldiers in his platoon said attacks seemed to increase against the United States in Paktika Province in the days and weeks following his disappearance.
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Richard Grenell, a former U.S. spokesman to the United Nations and partner with Capitol Media Partners, told Newsmax that numerous soldiers who served with Bowe reached out to him to express their anger with the decision.
"I have spoken with several of Bowe Bergdahl's platoon mates, and they are united in their view that Bowe walked away from them, and that many lives were risked and some lost in looking for a guy who willingly left the team," Grenell said.
The outrage quickly made its way into social media. A Facebook page, "Bowe Bergdahl is NOT a hero," went up on Monday, the New York Post reported.
It linked to an online petition demanding Bergdahl’s prosecution.
"Punish Bowe Bergdahl for walking off base with intent to not support the war on terror. Bowe Bergdahl broke several Articles under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and needs to be punished not rewarded," the petition read.
"Bowe Bergdahl directly disobeyed the following articles Article 86 AWOL and Article 85 Desertion. Both articles call for trial by court martial. He is not a hero and is directly responsible for several military members' death. Bring punishment to Bowe Bergdahl and let the public know that the military holds all members to the same standard," the petition states.
Former combat medic Javier Ortiz told The Washington Post,
"Regardless of what you learned while being there, we still have a responsibility to the men to our left and right. It's terrible, what he did.
"There were military assets required ... but the problem came of his own accord."
Another unidentified soldier said, "The unit completely changed its operational posture because of something that was selfish, not because a soldier was captured in combat."
CNN's Jake Tapper,
who embedded with and wrote a book about soldiers in Afghanistan, also found much anger.
"I was pissed off then, and I am even more so now with everything going on," said former Sgt. Matt Vierkant, a member of Bergdahl's platoon. "Bowe Bergdahl deserted during a time of war, and his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him."
Bergdahl's former squad leader, Greg Leatherman, told CNN: "I'm pleased to see him returned safely. From experience, I hope that he receives adequate reintegration counseling. I believe that an investigation should take place as soon as healthcare professionals deem him fit to endure one."
According to a 2012 report in Rolling Stone
, Bergdahl, now 28, had become disillusioned with his role in America's longest war, sending emails to his parents prior to his disappearance.
"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," Bergdahl reportedly wrote his father. "I have seen their ideas, and I am ashamed to even be american (sic). The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting."
He also attacked the Army, saying it cut down people "for being honest," and rewarded sycophants. "The title of US soldier is just the lie of fools," he wrote. "I am sorry for everything here.
"These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live.
"We don't even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks," he continued. "We make fun of them in front of their faces and laugh at them for not understanding we are insulting them."
His father, Bob, told him in an email, "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."
Rolling Stone reported that Bergdahl even approached a superior, "If I were to leave the base, would it cause problems if I took my sensitive equipment?" He was told it would, so he left his gun and took just water, a knife, a camera, and his diary, and "slipped off the outpost."
Specialist Jason Fry told Rolling Stone that even before leaving for Afghanistan Bergdahl told him, "If this deployment is lame, I'm just going to walk off into the mountains of Pakistan."
Bergdahl left his camp close to the Pakistani border, on June 30, 2009.
Bergdahl — who was promoted from private first class to sergeant during his time in captivity — is said to have become increasingly disillusioned with the war after a close friend was killed in Afghanistan.
Though the Obama administration has publicly embraced Bergdahl, one former comrade called on Facebook for him to be executed as a deserter, according to the New York Post
Bergdahl spent his first night of freedom at the military hospital at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan before being flown to Germany.
He will return to the United States to the Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, reported the Christian Science Monitor
The five Taliban prisoners released by the United States into the custody of Qatar were described by Sen. John McCain on Sunday as the "hardest of the hardcore." Human Rights Watch has pressed for one of them, Mohammed Fazl, to be prosecuted for war crimes for allegedly presiding over a mass killing of Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan.
"It is disturbing that these individuals would have the ability to re-enter the fight, and they are big, high-level people, possibly responsible for the deaths of thousands," McCain said on "Face the Nation."
The government of Qatar negotiated the deal for the prisoner exchange and is supposed to keep the five Taliban members from leaving the country for at least a year.
"I think the big issue here is what's going to happen to these five individuals," McCain said. "If they re-enter the fight, then it is going to put American lives at risk, and none of us want that to happen."
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