The Troubling Case of Bowe Bergdahl

By Jay Holmes

Since his release from Taliban captivity on May 13, 2014, in exchange for five senior Taliban leaders, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has been in the spotlight of the U.S. media. The Obama administration and much of the American media hailed the initial reports of his release as a victory and an obvious cause for celebration. However, within hours, questions began to emerge concerning the wisdom of exchanging five senior Taliban leaders for a U.S. Army soldier who had, according to his army comrades, apparently deserted his post in premeditated fashion.

 

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl image by U.S. Army

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl
image by U.S. Army

 

Bergdahl has now become something of a transient touchstone of American politics. Members of both Houses of Congress have pointed out that President Obama violated federal law when he authorized the release of Guantanamo prisoners without giving Congress the required thirty day notice. The law is quite clear on this point. The law was included in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013 and was signed by President Obama. We know that the President did in fact read the law before signing it because he complained about the restriction that the law placed on him at the time of the signing.

Whether anyone in the Department of Justice or Congress will do anything about that clear violation of law is doubtful. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has attempted to explain away the violation by saying that the President had complained about the law when he signed it, and that the circumstances were urgent.

I fear I must take responsibility for this particular instance of President Obama’s misbehavior. He was simply copying an old ploy that I invented when I was in third grade. When the nuns would assign me homework, I would complain about it and not do it. The following day, I would explain that urgencies—baseball practice, family events, reading time with better books, etc.—had prevented me from doing the homework. I stopped using that ploy when I got to high school. If I had known way back in third grade that future presidents and press secretaries would unleash such a powerful weapon against the American people, I never would have created this devastating device. I offer my sincere apologies.

The public’s response to the Bergdahl case has ranged from “Shoot the bastard!” to “He’s a hero, though I can’t explain why.” Much of this mixed reaction has little to do with legalities or illegalities. The basic controversy stems from the fact that five very dangerous Taliban leaders were released from Camp Cheerful in Guantanamo, Cuba, to obtain the release of a member of the U.S. Army who apparently deserted his post. The public’s anger concerning Bergdahl is based on statements made by Bergdahl’s platoon mates and a 2010 Pentagon investigation that concluded that there was “incontrovertible evidence” that Bergdahl walked away from his unit. Bergdahl has not been convicted of desertion or of any other violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and he might or might not ever face a court martial.

 

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with Taliban. image from Voice of Jihad Website

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with Taliban.
image from Voice of Jihad Website

 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey now explains that, “The questions about this particular soldier’s conduct are separate from our effort to recover any U.S. service member in enemy captivity,” and that, “Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty. Our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred. In the meantime, we will continue to care for him and his family.” I trust and respect General Dempsey, and I accept his position as rational. Precisely how much the U.S. was willing to give the Taliban in exchange for Bergdahl is another matter.

On June 30, 2009, Bergdahl vanished from his army post in Afghanistan. In statements that he made to his battalion mates and emails that he sent to his family prior to leaving his post, he made it clear that he was angry with the United States of America, and that he was ashamed of being American. So what would make any sane member of the U.S. Army turn into an American-hating deserter? The question might not quite apply in this case. He may have not been all that sane to start with.

A glance at Bergdahl’s background raises questions about whether he was ever fit to enter the U.S. Army in the first place. Prior to joining, Bergdahl had traveled to France and had attempted to enlist in the French Foreign Legion. To their credit, the Legion rejected his application. Somehow, the U.S. Army failed to detect the same issues, or it ignored whatever had concerned the French Foreign Legion.

Once Bergdahl arrived in Afghanistan, he began learning to speak Pashto. According to his battalion mates, he became more anti-social and spent more time with Afghans than with his platoon mates.  Bergdahl’s father is certain that he became socially isolated from his comrades while in Afghanistan. The very fact that Bergdahl was willing to wander off alone into the wilds of Afghanistan calls into question his ability to make rational decisions.

It’s a large Army and a volunteer Army. The pool of enlistment applicants is by no means infinite. If the Army were to exclude every youngster that seemed a little odd or that had previously acted immaturely, it would be a very small Army. I can forgive the U.S. military for its imperfect recruiting methods. Many of our nation’s military heroes did not always act like saints. The U.S. military will not find perfect screening tools for candidates. Such tools do not yet exist.

My personal judgments concerning Bergdahl’s conduct are not important. The opinions of his battalion mates should not be quite so easily dismissed. Thus far, it is clear that the majority of men that served in combat with Bergdahl are certain that he is a deserter. The Army is stating that this case will be fully investigated. But the president has the power to order this or any other investigation to be abandoned, or to deliver whatever conclusions he desires to have delivered. Both President Johnson and President Nixon directly intervened in major courts martial cases during the Viet Nam War for political reasons. President Clinton intervened during the Iraq No-Fly Zone operations. I don’t doubt that President Obama will do the same.

On the other side of the coin, the five criminals that were released had previously dedicated themselves to the anti-Western, anti-reason, Stone Age agenda of the Taliban. I expect that they will continue to do so.

 

Taliban Five, a.k.a. Taliban Dream Team Abdul Haq Wasiq, Mohammad Fazl, Khalrullah Khalrkhwa, Mohammed Nabi

Taliban Five, a.k.a. Taliban Dream Team
Abdul Haq Wasiq, Mohammad Fazl, Khalrullah Khalrkhwa, Mohammed Nabi

 

The Pentagon cannot resolve the underlying issues of the Bergdahl controversy. They are political in nature. The propaganda efforts put forth by the spin-demons in D.C. have been amusing but not terribly effective. Democratic Party stalwart and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Senator Dianne Feinstein has contradicted the White House’s assertion that they were forced to act quickly because Bergdahl was in imminent danger. It looks like a major political disaster in the making, but my best guess is that it will all soon fizzle. In all likelihood, the public relations fallout will not greatly influence political events in the U.S. A great number of both the president’s detractors and supporters are dogmatic in their politics, and neither this nor any other event will easily influence their loyalties. The president and other politicians understand this and act accordingly.

On the bright side, there is a glimmer of hope in this and in every other political disaster in the U.S.There are significant indications that young voters are less likely to settle for a constant diet of dogma to satisfy their political wishes. In spite of our best efforts to fail, we may have succeeded in raising a generation of Americans that are somewhat less politically gullible than previous generations have been. Call me a wild optimist, but it seems to me that the defective political products that have sold so well in the American political market place might not sell so well in the near future. The buyers are becoming more leery. Let’s hope that that trend will continue.

In the meantime, the Bergdahl case won’t have much influence on our policies or operations in Afghanistan. The Haqqani terrorist branch of the Taliban have their five extra zealots back, and they will continue to grow and to exert whatever influence they can in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although it’s infuriating to see terrorists set free, it won’t matter much in practical terms. The White House does not wish to burn much more of its shrinking political resources in Afghanistan. We are leaving regardless of what changes might occur there. Whether or not the Afghani tribal leaders will be willing and able to allow government to occur in our absence remains to be seen.

Egyptian Majority Evicts the Muslim Brotherhood

By Jay Holmes

In Cairo on the morning of August 18, the Egyptian military and police evicted protestors from the al Fath Mosque. In the chaos that has overtaken Egypt, this eviction could be dismissed as an insignificant event, but it can also be seen as an important moment in the decision-making of the current military-backed Egyptian government.

Egyptians Celebrate Morsi's Ouster image from Voice of America, July 7, 2013

Egyptians Celebrate Morsi’s Ouster
image from Voice of America, July 7, 2013

Supporters of the recently-ousted Egyptian President Morsi, who was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, called for protests last week. Thousands poured out and set up “occupy style” encampments in Cairo. When the Egyptian military and police broke up the encampments, Muslim Brotherhood supporters packed into the al Fath Mosque, which they had been using as a hospital. On August 18, both the Morsi supporters and the police fired shots. Both claim that the other side fired on them first.

On the face of it, the fact that thousands of Egyptians supported the Muslim Brotherhood was a victory for them, but millions of Egyptians turned out to oppose them. The Muslim Brotherhood’s loud past claims of majority rule are now falling on deaf ears in Egypt. The majority of Egyptians have unequivocally denounced both the Brotherhood and Morsi’s attempt to set up a personal kingdom for himself. Morsi had clearly intended to live well in the dictatorship that he was building, but for the average Egyptian, it was rapidly becoming a case of “let them eat Sharia Law.” The majority of people in Egypt don’t want Sharia Law as a substitute for a functioning government.

Depending on who you ask in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has the support of somewhere between fifteen to twenty percent of Egyptian men. In the confusion of the early post-Mubarak days, they were able to use their well-established organization to win an election with promises of religious freedom, democratic rule, and women’s rights under the label of the “Freedom and Justice Party.” Once in power, Morsi immediately betrayed his campaign promises and began to organize a powerful junta for himself and Muslim Brotherhood leaders under the guise of a Sharia Law theocracy.

On July 3, 2013, the Egyptian military calculated that it had enough popular backing to overthrow Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. The successful eviction of the Morsi supporters from the al Fath Mosque indicates that its calculation was correct. In essence, the people of Egypt decided that they were not going to tolerate the political con job that Islamic radicals pulled off, and they did something about it. The Egyptian military realized that Morsi had lost any semblance of majority backing and acted to save Egypt from falling back into the Dark Ages.

Reactions in the West are less clear.

Most of the Western media and many in Western governments have feigned shock at the Egyptian military’s “coup-that-wasn’t-a-coup.” Some in the media and government are apparently so clueless or so immersed in irrational dogma that their dismay at the “coup” is genuine.

In the US, the White House and congressmen from both major parties have engaged in poorly-staged hand wringing exercises to show their “deep concern” that the “coup-that-wasn’t-a-coup-and-therefore-can-still-be-funded-by-us” has used violence against the Muslim Brotherhood. The “deep concern” has not been deep enough to stop funding the Egyptian military.

We still want and need Egypt to allow our military aircraft to overfly that country on short notice. We still want to be able to use Egyptian air bases for staging operations in the region. And we still want our Navy to cut to the head of the traffic line at the congested Suez Canal. Obama and other politicians can express all the “deep concern” that they want over events in Egypt, but their words come at a price. Egyptians and others in the region now have their own deep concern that the US and Europe are unwilling to help them overthrow Islamic radicals.

Fortunately Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich Gulf States see themselves at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood and are enthusiastically financing the Egyptian government. The couple of billion a year that we give to Egypt no longer constitutes economic survival for that country. US money helps, but it doesn’t carry the same leverage that it once did.

Israel realizes that the Egyptian military is capable of keeping to a peace treaty with them, and that the Muslim Brotherhood was maneuvering Egypt toward war with Israel. Israel is hoping for the current Egyptian government to succeed.

Iran and its minions in Hamas are cheering for the Muslim Brotherhood to regain control in Egypt. While the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has no intention of accepting Iranian theocratic leadership, from the Iranian point of view, an Egypt led by the Muslim Brotherhood can at least be counted on to attack Israel and support the most radical elements amongst the Palestinians.

The normal variety of international adventure-tourist terrorists are doing their best to use Iranian funds and weapons to generate as much violence as possible in Egypt. My guess is that although they will cause misery, they will not be able to reinstall the Muslim Brotherhood or Sharia Law in that country.

What the future government in Egypt will look like is not altogether clear. Fortunately for Egyptians and everyone else in the region, it likely won’t include Sharia Law. They may end up with an “all new, more powerful deep cleaning” Mubarak-style junta, but for the sake of the Egyptian people, I hope that they end up with a government that reduces corruption and improves the rights and the quality of life in Egypt.

Why PRISM Matters

By Piper Bayard

I could list the civil liberties we have lost since 9/11, from security against unreasonable search and seizure to the officially sanctioned vilification of those who exercise their right to bear arms, but that would be a dissertation and not a blog. The sum total result, however, can be expressed in one sentence:  The balance of power has shifted.

PRISM protest at Checkpoint Charlie image by Digitale Gesellschaft

PRISM protest at Checkpoint Charlie
image by Digitale Gesellschaft

In a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, the government answers to the people. Its operations and the governing subset are subject to the scrutiny of the public. The people are secure from search and seizure—even in their communications—by the ruling subset of the population, and the people have the right and the ability to overthrow that subset by elections should the government grab too much power. The people are the masters, and the government is their servant.

When the government spies on us with everything from street corner cameras to DHS agents on our highways that perform warrantless searches of random individuals to collection and analysis of our every electronic transmission and phone communication, we are no longer the masters, and the government is no longer our servant. It is our ruler. It is a parent searching our rooms and opening our mail on the off chance that we MIGHT be doing something it doesn’t want us to do.

The difference between the government being the servant and the government being the master is a warrant. When an agency such as the NSA, FBI, DHS, etc., is required to obtain a warrant, an official paper trail is created by which the people can make the government answer for who and how it searches, why it searches, and what it obtains. It is a record by which citizens can hold the government accountable for its actions in a court of law.

With PRISM, every email, every phone communication, every bank transaction, every purchase involving a credit card, debit card, or check, and, once Obamacare is fully implemented, every health record is collected on all Americans. When trigger words* like “snow,” “bust,” or “sick” alert analysts, countless individuals who work for the government and in the private sector are free to peruse and interpret the threads of our lives at their personal discretion. Everything they do is off the record. No probable cause. No warrant. No accountability to the public. It is the act of a ruler, not the act of a servant.

Even with the evidence out about PRISM, our president claims that his administration is not spying on Americans. Yet he also states unapologetically that his administration will continue to collect and analyze all of our private communications with no probable cause or warrant to do so—in the name of “safety.” He is only admitting that much because of Snowden’s leaks. The true question lies in the things our president is not admitting.

Photo by Jeff Schuler wikimedia commons

Photo by Jeff Schuler
wikimedia commons

In 1972, America was shaken to its core by Nixon’s one warrantless wire tap. PRISM is a warrantless wire tap of every American and foreigner within our borders. Each and every one of us is now assumed guilty until proven innocent. Each and every one of us now answers to the government master that was once our servant. I’m not saying we shouldn’t spy on terrorists within or without our borders. I’m saying let there be warrants. Let there be public records. Let there be accountability. Do not allow the government to exercise such omnipotent power with impunity.

Prior to PRISM and to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, warrantless searches were allowed under urgent circumstances, but the after the search, the government agents involved still had to make a record and show probable cause retroactively. In most cases, terrorist investigators working in the US had plenty of time to take the few minutes needed to get a warrant from an on-call judge. There is no known history of any case in which the requirement for a warrant prevented investigators from acting in time.

Freedom is about dignity and responsibility—it is not about perfect security from cradle to grave. When we abdicate our responsibility for our freedom in favor of comfort and the illusion of safety, an illusion the Boston bombing should have shattered, we also surrender our dignity and our choices. We become wards of the state. What were once our rights as responsible adults are now merely our privileges as subjects, granted or withheld by our rulers at their whim and discretion. We must demand more of our leaders. Freedom can be won, and freedom can be surrendered, but Freedom will never be given back once successfully taken by the ruling class. PRISM is that taking.

*Department of Homeland Security Analyst’s Desktop Binder