Capt. Eugene “Red” McDaniel spent six agonizing years as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton after his plane was shot down over Vietnam, so he can imagine better than most what it will be like for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to return to the U.S. after five years in the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
But McDaniel says the first thing that should happen when Bergdahl arrives in the United States is an investigation into whether he actually was a prisoner of war or whether he deserted his military post.
Deserting a military post in a time of war is an offense the Uniform Code of Military Justice treats harshly, allowing even for execution, though that punishment has not been used since World War II.
The second thing that needs to happen, McDaniel said, is that all Americans overseas need to tighten up their security procedures.
President Obama announced over the weekend that five known terror leaders from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay were handed over to Qatar in exchange for Bergdahl, who vanished from his military post in 2009 and later was seen in a Taliban-released video.
A number of Bergdahl’s Army colleagues are charging he’s a traitor, not a hero.
In an email to his parents, Bergdahl wrote: “I am ashamed to be an American.”
“And the title of US soldier is just the lie of fools. I am sorry for everything. The horror that is America is disgusting,” he wrote, according to the New York Post.
A Rolling Stone feature in 2012 said that on June 30, 2009, after finishing a guard-duty shift, Bergdahl asked his team leader whether there would be a problem if he left camp with his rifle and night-vision goggles. The team leader said it would be a problem. But Bergdahl then returned to bis bunker, picked up a knife, water, his diary and a camera, and left camp, the magazine said.
McDaniel, whose war-time experience is recorded in his book “Scars & Stripes,” told WND it was “incredible that we negotiated giving up five top terrorists.”
“This could very well be a deserter,” he said of Bergdahl. “The army spent months looking for him.”
But he said the worst is that the swap makes “every soldier, American citizen vulnerable and valuable to the enemy.”
Terrorists know now that the White House is willing to give up major terrorists in prison in exchange for a single American soldier, he said.
“We don’t negotiate with terrorists,” he said.
One Special Forces commander said, “Should I or others involved be looking over our shoulders now?”
Others agreed with McDaniel’s assessment.
Columnist Pat Buchanan wrote: “Did Sgt. Bergdahl defect, did he desert, did he collaborate with the enemy? We do not know. But these charges will have to be investigated.”
He said if they are not, or if they “are proven true and Bergdahl evades all punishment, it would be a blow to Army morale and widen the gulf between the Army and commander in chief that was on display at West Point a week ago.”
Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness told WND that “at a minimum, all of these allegations should be investigated … the sooner the better.”
In 2010, the Sunday Times of London reported the Taliban saying Bergdahl was “training fighters in bombmaking and ambush,” which means he could be facing treason, not just desertion.
The report, including an interview with one of Bergdahl’s captors, said he had converted to Islam.
“When I saw him for the second time, he had totally changed. He had a beard and he treated us all very respectfully. He seemed very relaxed in our company,” said a commander who called himself Haji Nadeem.
A petition quickly appeared on the White House website called for Bergdahl to be court-martialed.
“Bergdahl, directly disobeyed the following Articles Article 86 AWOL and Article 85 Desertion. Both articles call for trial by court martial. He is not a hero and is directly responsible for several military members death (sic),” the petition explains.
“Bring punishment to Bowe Bergdahl and let the public know that the military holds all members to the same standards.”
Donnelly said the price to the U.S. for the release of Bergsdahl is very high, and there appears to be no significant benefit to the nation’s security.
“Something very bad is going to come of this,” she told WND.
She also questioned whether the exchange and others that may be to come would be the method through which Obama finally keeps his first-term promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison.
“One of the loose end strings he’s not been able to resolve is closing Gitmo,” she said.
But using the captured terrorists for exchanges would “make Gitmo irrelevant.”
According to various reports, the questions about Bergdahl’s disappearance are extensive. Among the questions that have been raised:
- Did he leave his base when he disappeared? He wasn’t lagging behind on a patrol because there was no patrol.
- What about the warnings he gave that he wanted to leave?
- What about the six soldiers who died trying to track him down?
- Why did he call America “the most conceited country in the world”?
- Why did he call his commander a “conceited old fool”?