An Examination of the Bowe Bergdahl Desertion Case

The high-profile court-martial case of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is set to take place between August 8th and August 19th, 2016. Bergdahl faces charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy after leaving a military base in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009. Shortly after his alleged desertion, Bergdahl was captured by Taliban militants and spent the next five years being tortured in captivity until being freed in a highly controversial prisoner swap approved by President Obama. In exchange for Bergdahl’s release, the United States handed over five high-profile Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.

Bergdahl could spend the rest of his life in a military prison if convicted of these charges.

There has been a great deal of speculation as to what exactly sparked Bergdahl’s decision to leave his unit and the details of his relationship with his captors, with some accusing him of being a Taliban sympathizer and helping plan attacks against American soldiers. While details surrounding his time in captivity are still unclear, Army investigations and witness accounts of other soldiers within Bergdahl’s unit have uncovered some new information about his history.

Past Diagnoses of Mental Illness

Bergdahl’s army enlistment was not his first experience with the United States armed forces. According to a March 2016 article published by the New York Times, in 2006, he was rejected from Coast Guard basic training due to being diagnosed with “adjustment disorder with depression.” In a following psychiatric evaluation conducted in the time period before his desertion, Bergdahl was diagnosed with “schizotypal personality disorder.” Interestingly enough, while his first diagnosis would ordinarily be a red flag for recruiters, the army chose to ignore his mental health history by granting him with a waiver allowing him to enlist, possibly due to serious shortage of enlistments at the time.

Why Did Bergdahl Leave His Unit?

According to interviews with Bergdahl himself, he chose to leave his unit in an effort to create a crisis of sorts in order to highlight what he felt were “dangerous leadership problem(s) in his unit.” He left the military base, unarmed, to travel 18 miles to a nearby base to seek “an audience” with a general there before being captured en route to his destination. This story is consistent with the final email Bergdahl sent his parents before being captured, describing how he was “ashamed to even be American” and claiming that his “battalion commander is a conceited old fool.”

Bergdahl has been open about his influence by the iconic Ayn Rand novel Atlas Shrugged and made references to its character John Galt in communications with friends before leaving his unit. In the novel, John Galt is an industrialist who is determined to stop communists from taking over the world by stopping the “engine of the world” in a heroic self-sacrifice. Bergdahl has stated that, like Galt, he saw the Army as a corrupt “engine” and wanted to bring it to a stop. These similarities continue, as Galt is tortured by his enemies until being saved by his allies at the end of the novel. Unlike Gualt, however, Bergdahl has not been hailed as a hero by his comrades.

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