Berghdal verdict fails to deliver due justice

A “blue falcon” is military slang for buddy f—–, used pejoratively to describe a soldier who makes a mistake, intentionally or unintentionally, that gets their unit punished as a whole. Bowe Bergdahl is the worst blue falcon of the 21st century. Despite the fact that the United States does not negotiate with terrorists, five Taliban terrorists were exchanged for Bergdahl’s safe return. Consider only the crime and the punishment.

First, the crime: Bergdahl walked off his post while on duty. He abandoned his brothers in arms and left behind his equipment, his battalion and his honor.

Now, the punishment: Bergdahl was given no time in prison. He is forced to pay $1,000 per month for the next ten months and has been demoted from sergeant, a rank he only gained through automatic promotions while being held in captivity, to private. He is also being dishonorably discharged, although there is an automatic appeal currently underway.

A nation may mete punishment for three reasons: to deter future criminals from similar behavior, to extract a pound of flesh or because a crime is heinous to the point that only a certain reaction will quell a society’s sense of injustice. Yet, with this punishment, none of those reasons were satisfied.

Servicemen and women will not be deterred from desertion after this laughable slap on the wrist. They now know that for the low price of $10,000 spread over ten months and a demotion, there is carte blanche to walk away from a duty they no longer feel like honoring. For reference, a private makes around $1,600 per month, not counting housing allowances, insurance and other benefits.

There is no doubt that the United States did not receive its pound of flesh. A Navy Seal had to undergo 18 surgeries and can no longer serve in the military because of the injuries he sustained looking for Bergdahl. Scores of soldiers and airmen were on patrol for weeks searching and eight of them subsequently lost their lives. One man can never repay this debt, not even in 100 lifetimes and certainly not with ten months of half-garnished wages.

Finally, the crime’s severity can be measured by the general orders, the very first thing taught in basic military training, memorized before even setting foot in camp: “I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.” Ignoring momentarily that Bergdahl violated the capstone pillar of his profession, he also violated the immortal code of “never leave a man behind.”

This dereliction of duty left his comrades exposed. It caused innumerable and predictable suffering and loss and was in direct contention with the oaths he swore to and the duty he was bound to. Former National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s claim that Bergdahl “served with honor and distinction” is beyond ignorant at best and deceptively politically self-serving at worst. The idea that a military judge would so lightly punish this modern Benedict Arnold is anathema to the very fabric of justice.

At least he is sorry.

November 20, 2017

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