On June 30, 2009, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl of the United States Army became a prisoner of war in Afghanistan. He remained as such for five years, until last summer when President Barack Obama, and his administration signed off on an order for his return home in exchange for five prisoners being held in Guantanamo Bay.
What should have been seen as an American triumph in saving a life was overcast by a largely conservative criticism of regulations and logistics.
The circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s capture were at first revisited and subsequently dissected by government and military officials, as the American public launched its own campaigns of both support and persecution.
When Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban, he was on his own. He’d left his post and broken ranks, suffering from what his family has described as a hopeless sense of disillusionment with the American military system.
Months after being reunited with his family after being tortured by Taliban members for years, Bergdahl is now being charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. These charges, which could carry up to life in prison as a maximum sentence, will be decided upon in July.
An American soldier, who spent five years of his life as a POW, is facing the possibility life behind bars, stripping of benefits, dishonorable discharge and an overall loss of civilian rights.
Technically, a harsher sentence conviction would be just by the military’s standards. They operate on a tight schedule and leave little time for transgressions in matters that have to do with issues of national security.
But when it comes to the militarization of justice, we can’t speak in such platitudes.
Bergdahl’s case, more than any I’ve heard in recent history, is not black and white. All of the investigation in the world would not be able to clear up the gray area of what happened at that U.S. military base or in that Taliban prison.
Rules were clearly broken and lines were crossed, and if anyone should realize that, I would think it would be Bergdahl himself. To continue to persecute and defame him for breach of conduct in the line of duty accomplishes nothing and benefits no one and has the potential to have extremely harmful and lasting effects on a culture that thrives in its entitlement.
As Americans, we live in a society where nationalism flows so freely that American flags are printed on clothing as a fashion statement. But if we don’t have some sort of responsibility and obligation to the humans who secure such privileged sweaters, how can we don such knits?
Bergdahl’s situation should have started very many trains of thought within the mind of the American public. It should have led to conversations about the war in the Middle East, about mental health, about the treatment of POWs and veterans in this country, about the power of community organizing in shifting governmental proceedings, or about the way we measure punishment.
Still, the headlines read differently, and suddenly our country’s craving for a dated display of our traditional and treasured justice is turning minds away from issues that are begging to be confronted.
The Bergdahl trial and conservative media frenzy that has ensued is a distraction from conversations that are vital to the continued practice of justice and fairness in American society.
By threatening to persecute a POW, our justice system is highlighting its own faults, threatening to ruin much more than just the life of one man.