Why Did Bowe Bergdahl Walk Away?

AP Photo/Voice Of Jihad Website via AP video

In this image taken from video obtained from Voice Of Jihad Website, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sits in a vehicle guarded by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban have released a video showing the handover of Bergdahl to U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan. The video, emailed to media on Wednesday, shows Bergdahl in traditional Afghan clothing sitting in a pickup truck parked on a hillside. More than a dozen Taliban fighters with machine guns stand around the truck and on the hillside. 

One question seems absent from the countless hours of coverage and debate surrounding the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban captivity: Why did he walk away?

Those attacking Bergdahl and his family liberally cite Michael Hasting’s 2012 Rolling Stone article detailing the circumstance that led up to the Army Private walking off his base in rural Afghanistan.

To wit, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough debating colleague Chuck Todd last week:

“And if my son is out on the wire, and he is out there with fellow troops and he writes me up and says he hates America and he’s thinking about deserting and he’s thinking about leaving his post, I can tell you as the father of that 26 year old or 23 year year old son I’d say Joey you stay the hell right there. I would call his commander I would say get my son he is not well Get him to a military base in Germany. I would not say follow your conscience son.”

Scarborough’s facts come from Hastings’ piece, yet he completely talks around the horrific details that led Bob Bergdahl to e-mail his son, “OBEY YOUR CONSCIENCE!”

According to Hastings, Bergdahl’s last e-mail “referred to what his parents believe may have been a formative, possibly traumatic event: seeing an Afghan child run over by an MRAP.” (MRAP stands for Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected -- a vehicle designed to protect against improvised explosive devises.)

Also ignored has been Hasting’s description of Bergdahl's “unit that [from the time its training began] seemed to have almost no discipline.”

These problems became endemic once the group deployed to Afghanistan:

The discipline problems that had plagued Bowe's unit back home only got worse when immersed in the fog of war. From the start, everything seemed to go wrong. In April, Lt. Fancey was removed from his post for clashing with a superior officer. He was replaced by Sgt. 1st Class Larry Hein, who had never held such a command – a move that left the remote outpost with no officers. According to four soldiers in the battalion, the removal of Fancey was quickly followed by a collapse in unit morale and an almost complete breakdown of authority.

Hastings, in vivid detail, describes an undermanned force, botched missions, and incompetent leadership. Bergdahl had witnessed a friend, 1st Lt. Brian Bradshaw, killed by a roadside bomb, in addition to the aforementioned death of an Afghan child at the hands of a US armored vehicle.

Bowe Bergdahl’s decision to abandon his base was certainly not heroic and ultimately the military justice system will determine if he should be disciplined.  Furthermore it is impossible to criticize soldiers in his platoon who are speaking out, angry about the price paid to hunt for him in the mountains of Afghanistan. (Republican operatives attempting to take advantage of Bergdahl’s release for partisan gain are a completely different story.)

However the act of walking off into desolate, Taliban-filled Afghan territory in the dark of night, unarmed and unprotected save for a knife, is not the product of a lucid mind.

The inability of those who are leveling the harshest criticisms—a group of media figures who happen to correlate heavily with those who cheered us into the Iraq War—to confront the circumstances that led an American solder to take such an action is not only journalistic malpractice but also characteristic of what is wrong with the last dozen years of media commentary on the entirety of our war effort: an inability to accept or report on the human cost of war.