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Brutalized in Taliban Captivity After Fleeing War He Opposed, Bowe Bergdahl Charged with Desertion

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The U.S. military has charged Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with one count of desertion and one count of misbehavior before the enemy. Bergdahl was held in Taliban captivity for five years after leaving his Army base in Afghanistan in 2009. An earlier military report found Bergdahl likely walked away of his own free will, but stopped short of finding that he planned to permanently desert American forces. In Taliban captivity, Bergdahl has said he was beaten, tortured and locked in a cage after trying to escape some 12 times. He was freed last year in exchange for five Taliban militants. He now faces life in prison if convicted. We are joined by Brock McIntosh, who served in Afghanistan from November 2008 to August 2009. McIntosh applied for conscientious objector status and was discharged in May 2014.

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Video squareStoryMar 30, 2015Ex-U.S. Official on Bowe Bergdahl Charges: Why Are We Vilifying an Ex-POW Tortured by Taliban?
Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In a moment, we’ll be talking about the charging of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. But first we look at the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in U.S. history. Earlier this week, President Obama reversed course and announced he’ll keep nearly 10,000 troops in Afghanistan at least through the end of this year.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In support of today’s narrow missions, we have just under 10,000 troops there. Last year I announced a timeline for drawing down our forces further, and I’ve made it clear that we’re determined to preserve the gains our troops have won. President Ghani has requested some flexibility on our drawdown timelines. I’ve consulted with General Campbell in Afghanistan and my national security team, and I’ve decided that we will maintain our current posture of 9,800 troops through the end of this year.

AMY GOODMAN: This marks just the latest example of President Obama pushing back plans to end the war in Afghanistan. In 2011, he vowed U.S. operations would be done in 2014.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.

AMY GOODMAN: That was 2011. Then, in 2013, President Obama vowed again to end the war by 2014.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Tonight I can announce that over the next year another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, to talk more about the ongoing Afghan War, we’re joined by Brock McIntosh. He served in Afghanistan from November 2008 to August 2009. He applied for conscientious objector status, was discharged in May 2014. He’s a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Your response to this week’s developments, as President Obama stood with the new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, announcing the U.S. would remain in Afghanistan?

BROCK McINTOSH: Well, it seems like every year and every few months it’s changing. He’s changing his mind about how many—how many soldiers we’re going to keep there. So, it’s not much of a surprise. I’m not sure exactly what he thinks is going to be different this time around than from the last year or two, during which the security situation in Afghanistan has been deteriorating.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think needs to happen in Afghanistan?

BROCK McINTOSH: Well, I think what needs to happen is the different parties that are in conflict within Afghanistan need to figure out a resolution to their conflicts, because until that happens, the war in Afghanistan is going to continue to go. And the Afghanistan government also needs to figure out their corruption problem. It’s really hard to get the Afghan people to buy into the government when they are so deeply corrupt.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. military—at the same time that we’re hearing the U.S. war in Afghanistan will continue, the U.S. military has announced it has charged Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl with one count of desertion and one count of misbehavior before the enemy. Bergdahl was held in Taliban captivity for five years after leaving his Army base in Afghanistan in 2009. An earlier military report found Bergdahl likely walked away from his Army outpost in Afghanistan of his own free will, but stopped short of finding he planned to permanently desert. Bergdahl has said he was beaten, tortured and locked in a cage after trying to escape. He was freed last year in exchange for five Taliban militants who had been imprisoned for many years ago at Guantánamo Bay. On Wednesday, U.S. Army spokesperson Colonel Daniel King read the charges against Bergdahl during a press conference on [Wednesday].

COL. DANIEL KING: The U.S. Army Forces Command has thoroughly reviewed the Army’s investigation surrounding Sergeant Robert Bowdrie Bergdahl’s 2009 disappearance in Afghanistan, and formally charged Sergeant Bergdahl under the Armed Forces Uniform Code of Military Justice on March 25th, 2015, with desertion, with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty, and misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place.

AMY GOODMAN: Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl faces life in prison if convicted. On Wednesday, Bowe Bergdahl’s legal team released a statement from him describing his time held as a prisoner for five years by the Taliban. He wrote, quote, “After my first two escape attempts, for about three months I was chained to a bed spread-eagle and blindfolded. The blindfold was only taken off a few times a day to allow me to eat and use the latrine.” He went on to describe being held in a cage. In all, Bergdahl said, he attempted to escape 12 times from the Taliban.

The front page of The New York Times today also quotes a description of him. It starts off by saying, “In the five years he was held captive by the Haqqani insurgent network, [Sgt.] Bowe Bergdahl … tried to escape 12 times. The first … just a few hours after he was captured in Afghanistan in 2009. He was quickly recaptured and beaten. But another attempt, a year later, lasted close to nine days.”

And here, they quote another part of this letter he released. They say, without—Bowe Bergdahl wrote, “'Without food and only putrid water to drink, my body failed on top of a short mountain close to evening,' Sergeant Bergdahl wrote in a page-and-a-half, single-spaced narrative.” He went on to say, “'Some moments after I came to in the dying gray light of the evening, I was found by a large Taliban searching group,' he wrote. They hit him, tried to tear out his beard and hair, and returned him to his captors.” Just a bit of the description.

Brock McIntosh, again, with us, served in Afghanistan from November 2008 to August 2009. He applied for conscientious objector status and was discharged in May 2014. Your response to the charge yesterday that was announced against Bowe Bergdahl?

BROCK McINTOSH: The desertion charge doesn’t surprise me. I don’t imagine that the military really had a choice whether or not to charge him. The consequences, if he is found guilty, that’s a different matter. The misbehavior before the enemy—

AMY GOODMAN: And that charge, I think he could face a few years or up to five years. He already was held—

BROCK McINTOSH: Could be a maximum of five years. It could be as small as just a dishonorable discharge.

AMY GOODMAN: Or saying time served?

BROCK McINTOSH: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: Meaning in Taliban captivity.

BROCK McINTOSH: Yeah. The misbehavior before the enemy is—can be interpreted pretty broadly. It could be something as small as running away before the enemy. But I think that the reason that they brought that charge was because of the accusations that six soldiers had died searching for him, which I think is totally unfair—unfair claim that’s made by some of the folks who were in his unit.

AMY GOODMAN: And why do you think that’s unfair?

BROCK McINTOSH: Well, no soldiers in his unit died in the few months immediately after he went missing, which is when they were going on missions specifically to look for him. The six soldiers who died died in August and September, almost three months after he had gone missing. And the claims are things like—they would go on a routine security patrol, and during that patrol they would also happen to ask people about Bergdahl every once in a while. But then someone might—someone would step on an IED. But it wasn’t a mission specifically to look for Bergdahl. And the thing is, is if they had not been looking for Bowe Bergdahl, they would have been going on missions anyways. They would have been going on security patrols. They would have been pursuing alleged insurgents anyways. And if you look at the rate of U.S. fatalities, the rate of U.S. fatalities in 2009, when Bowe Bergdahl went missing, doubled from the year prior, and then they increased again to 500 in 2010, which is positively correlated with the counterinsurgency and surge in Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: This is a clip of Bergdahl’s father, Bob Bergdahl, speaking in a video produced last year by The Guardian.

BOB BERGDAHL: I’m sorry, how can we teach two generations, at least, of children in this country that we have zero tolerance for violence, but we can occupy two countries in Asia for almost a decade? It’s schizophrenic. And no wonder this younger generation is struggling psychologically with the duplicity of this, the use of violence. The purpose of war is to destroy things. You can’t use it to govern.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Bob Bergdahl. Your response to that, as you dealt in Afghanistan, as you confronted what was happening there? This new report has come out, “Body Count,” from the Nobel Prize-winning group International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, saying upwards of 1.3 million people have died in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan during the 10 years of the war on terror. The late journalist, Rolling Stone journalist, Michael Hastings quoted emails that Bowe had sent to his parents. One of the quotes from those emails: “I am sorry for everything here.” What recourse did Bowe Bergdahl have if he came to be deeply opposed to the war in Afghanistan?

BROCK McINTOSH: None. There would have been—there would have been no other option for him. And I think that that speaks to one of the larger issues. I think there’s two larger issues. The first is the fact that there was no recourse for him. If you’re a soldier, you’re in a combat zone, and you’re dealing with any type of war trauma, whether it’s PTSD or a moral injury, there’s very little recourse. And the second issue is, Bowe Bergdahl was discharged from the Coast Guard in 2006. The Army accepted him in 2008, knowing that he had that discharge. Twenty percent of recruits in 2008 were given waivers to join the military, and that is—and that is because the military recognized that they needed more troops because of the surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they were two unpopular wars. Despite the fact that they were two unpopular wars, they continued to deepen our commitment in those wars, and they gave waivers to soldiers who probably should not have gotten waivers.

AMY GOODMAN: You applied for conscientious objector status from Afghanistan.

BROCK McINTOSH: I applied for conscientious objector status the summer after I got back from Afghanistan. And it was a process that was—it was difficult to do, and the—most people are completely unfamiliar with it. When I went to my company commander, he had no idea what to do. He had never heard of it. He didn’t think that I was able to do that. So I had to give him Army regulations to show him what to do. And then the battalion ended up losing my paperwork after a year. It was a very complicated process. So even if he had to decide to leave when he came home, through conscientious objector status, that’s still also a difficult process.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Brock McIntosh, I want to thank you for being with us. Brock McIntosh served in Afghanistan from November 2008 to August 2009, applied for conscientious objector status and was discharged in May 2014, now a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’ll be back in a minute.

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