NEW YORK – The court-martial of a Vietnam War POW who claimed he was tortured by his captors establishes a precedent for the prosecution of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, according to a decorated retired general and Defense Department official.
As WND reported, retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin believes evidence clearly shows Bergdahl is a deserter who should never draw a free breath and that President Obama is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors for ignoring federal law in pursuit of an administration goal.
In a telephone interview Monday, Boykin discussed the court-martial of Robert Garwood, a former U.S. Marine who was the only Vietnam POW to face court-martial. In his defense, Garwood claimed he was tortured. The Obama administration, likewise, has claimed Bergdahl was locked in a metal cage by his captors and mistreated or possibly tortured in captivity.
Boykin argued politics should play no role in determining whether or not Bergdahl is court-martialed.
“All this talk about not leaving someone behind or about whether Bergdahl was tortured in captivity is nonsense once a soldier goes over to the enemy,” Boykin said.
He said Garwood and Bergdahl both had information that was invaluable to the enemy.
Bergdahl knew details of key U.S. command personnel and combat tactics, he said, “that would put U.S. troops in the field at greater risk once that information was shared with the enemy.”
Boykin insisted that Bergdahl should be placed in military confinement immediately and, like Garwood, should be court-martialed as soon as possible.
Boykin views Bergdahl as a deserter, every bit as much as Garwood was judged to be a deserter at his court-martial after his 1979 return to the United States.
He suspects the abuse claim is “a scam.”
“If Bergdahl went over to the Taliban, he may just have been told it was his job to return to the United States, claiming he had been abused, because the Taliban knew the Obama administration would release five top Taliban enemy combatant terrorists from Guantanamo if Bergdahl were willing to do as instructed by participating willingly in the prisoner swap,” he said.
In March 1979, Garwood emerged from 14 years of captivity in Vietnam, only to be convicted by a U.S. Marine Corp court-martial of desertion, collaborating with the enemy and assault of a fellow prisoner. He received a dishonorable discharge and was stripped of back pay in a case the Supreme Court refused to hear.
Garwood fought the court-martial to no avail, claiming his North Vietnamese captors had tortured him. He said he was exhibited in a bamboo cage and subjected to abuse while he was injured, malnourished and exposed virtually naked to severe weather conditions.
Garwood claimed he “went native,” deciding to collaborate with the North Vietnamese as a survival strategy. He said he expected to be treated as a hero when he finally managed to escape his captors.
“I thought I was leaving the nightmare behind me,” Garwood, then 33 years old, told reporters in December 1979. “I expected everything to be so bright and cheerful because I survived.”
Instead, the Marine Corps pressed formal charges, forcing Garwood to face court-martial for desertion, sedition, being AWOL from September 1965 to March 1979 – the 14 years he claimed he was a POW in Vietnamese prison camps – as well as allegations he beat a fellow American POW while in captivity.
Throughout Garwood’s court-martial, defense lawyers argued without success that he was innocent because he was driven insane by Viet Cong torture.
Condemned as a traitor
Like Bergdahl, the circumstances regarding Garwood’s disappearance remain controversial even today.
Garwood’s case began Sept. 28, 1965, at Da Nang, when he disappeared from base.
In 1993, after a television documentary highlighted Garwood’s claims that POWs and MIAs were still alive in Southeast Asia, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of the most famous of the U.S. POWs in the Vietnam era, went to the Senate floor to question the circumstances surrounding Garwood’s disappearance:
There are confliction reports about how or when [Garwood] disappeared. He was reported to have been captured in firefight with Viet Cong forces; kidnapped from a brothel; ambushed on a road outside of the Da Nang Air Force Base; got lost on a road off base and surrendered to the enemy; voluntarily joined enemy forces.
In McCain’s 1993 Senate speech, still posted on his Senate website, he castigated Garwood for wearing the uniform of the North Vietnamese Army, taking up arms against American forces and making radio broadcasts for the enemy that were heard by McCain and his fellow POWs in Hanoi.
McCain argued that Garwood would not be excused even if he was “quickly broken by the enemy” or if he joined forces with his captors “from fear or mental delusion.”
McCain still condemned Garwood, in no uncertain terms:
To my knowledge, no one ever broke so completely as Robert Garwood. But even though the court martial, conviction and dishonorable discharge of Garwood were more than justified, had Garwood admitted his bad faith, had he ceased to peddle a shameless, fictitious alibi for his dishonorable conduct, in time we could learn to forgive the man, if not his crimes.
But such is not the case. Some say Garwood is today mentally handicapped and easily manipulated by POW/MIA activists who wish to substantiate his claims about remaining POWs despite all evidence to the contrary. I wouldn’t know. What I do know is that he continues to dishonor the service of American POWs by lying about their and his behavior in prison. He continues to contribute to the anguish of POW/MIA families by continually lying about having seen other Americans. These efforts and others constitute an enduring betrayal of his country.
In the 1990s, then-Sen. John Kerry joined McCain in condemning Garwood, charging that Garwood waited at least five years after leaving Vietnam before telling investigators he saw live American POWs.
Obama playing politics with Bergdahl?
Political considerations appear to be in play in the Bergdahl case, after President Obama and National Security Adviser Susan Rice declared Bergdahl was not a traitor, but a soldier who served with “honor and distinction.”
Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” program Sunday, Secretary of State Kerry said there was no choice but to rescue Bergdahl by any means necessary, because it “would have been offensive and incomprehensible to consciously leave an American behind … in the hands of people who would torture him, cut off his head, [or] do any number of things.”
Decades ago, political considerations in the aftermath of the Vietnam War apparently didn’t help Garwood’s case.
Former CBS producer for “60 Minutes” Monika Jensen-Stevenson, in her 1997 book, “Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam,” argued Garwood was prosecuted because his re-emergence embarrassed government officials in Washington and in Hanoi who were maintaining that all U.S. POWs and MIAs from the Vietnam era were either dead or had been returned.
Even today, McCain and Kerry remain controversial for the role they played as members of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs from 1989 to 1993 during the administration of President George H. W. Bush. The panel concluded there was no convincing evidence Vietnam-era POWs and MIAs were still alive in Southeast Asia.
Nicholas Proffitt, the Newsweek bureau chief in Saigon in 1972 and 1973,claimed in a 1993 review of Jensen-Stevenson’s book that Washington decided to prosecute Garwood as a defector who had chosen to stay behind because it was the politically correct solution to dismissing his charge that POWs were still alive in Vietnam.
Proffitt cites the reaction of Col. Tom C. McKenney, who as part of a Vietnam-era clandestine military unit working for the CIA attempted to assassinate Garwood behind enemy lines, only to repent of his action years later.
“It was only after Private Garwood’s court-martial in 1980 that Colonel McKenney began having doubts,” Proffitt wrote.
“Retired from the Marine Corps and engaged in ministerial and counseling work, he started hearing from former special operations men who had briefly known Private Garwood in the P.O.W. camps. Bobby Garwood had been a stand-up guy, they told him.”
Proffitt noted that an old friend who had helped debrief Garwood on his return from Vietnam then subsequently contacted McKenney.
“The private was being railroaded, the friend told him,” Proffitt continued.
“And there were the comments of General Eugene Tighe, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and a man Colonel McKenney respected. The general, who had debriefed Private Garwood at the agency, said that ‘the court-martial was completely controlled by the fanatical elements of the Marine Corps.'”