Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s five years in Taliban captivity ranked among the worst treatment a prisoner-of-war has seen in 60 years. After surviving that, should he be sent to prison for desertion and abandoning his post?
No, Maj. General Kenneth Dahl, the Army’s lead investigator, said Friday in Bergdahl’s Article 32 procedure, the military’s equivalent of a grand jury hearing. “That would be inappropriate.”
But for Andy and Sondra Andrews, whose son Darryn was killed nine and a half weeks after Bergdahl walked off-post, the answer is yes.
The couple drove from Central Texas to attend the two-day hearing at Fort Sam Houston and watched from inside the basement hearing room. Before driving home, Andy Andrews said he had not before heard the detailed testimony presented Friday about the conditions of Bergdahl’s captivity, but, “The fact still remains, that he walked away.”
“Personally, I think he should be jailed,” Andy Andrews told The Daily Beast.
The Andrews said they were told by soldiers who served with their son Darryn that he was killed in a Taliban attack while looking for Bergdahl. During the hearing, witnesses repeatedly said that no soldiers were killed during the frenetic search.
Bergdahl, now 29, was described as an introvert who was fascinated by Asian culture—particularly the Samurai warrior code—and inspired by Ayn Rand’s character John Galt.
“He has unrealistically idealistic standards and expectations of other people,” Dahl said.
Those expectations, Dahl said, led Bergdahl to grow increasingly disappointed with Army leadership and training. On June 29, 2009, he was so frustrated with his platoon’s leadership that he planned to run 31 kilometers across the rural, hilly desert to get the attention of a general officer.
“The way to do this was to create a personal recovery event,” Dahl said.
He’d already mailed home his computer, Kindle, a journal, and two books. Between 10 p.m. and midnight, Dahl said, Bergdahl left Observation Point Mest. He was unarmed and carried an Afghan disguise to conceal his identity to anyone he might come across. But around 8 a.m. the next morning, he was captured by members of the Haqqani Network, an ally of the Taliban.
Terrence D. Russell, a senior program manager who debriefed Bergdahl in a day-and-a-half interview, described his captors as, “a psychopathic, sadistic terrorist group.”
The soldier’s five years in captivity were filled with “absolute terror and horror,” Russell said. He was blindfolded and beaten, first with a rubber hose and then later with a copper cable, and suffered from uncontrollable diarrhea for more than three years.
But even so, the lone soldier was able to escape twice, Russell said, and never gave up.
Once, he hid himself in a mud puddle before being recaptured 10 minutes later. The second time, Bergdahl escaped from the so-called Taliban prison, spending eight-and-a-half days on the lam—eating grass and drinking what water he could find—before he was captured again.
After that, Russell said, Bergdahl was kept in a metal cage for three years.
When asked how Bergdahl performed in captivity, Russell cried, and said, “He did the best job that he could do, and I respect him for it.”
Bergdahl kept his head down and blinked often during Russell’s lengthy testimony.
When asked if Bergdahl was remorseful about leaving Observation Post Mest, Dahl said yes, “He was young, naïve and inexperienced.”
He was emotional during his interview with Dahl that anything bad happened to soldiers looking for him, Dahl said, adding, “He hoped that that did not happen.”
At that, Sondra Andrews shook her head.
“I feel that my son gave his life defending the constitution of our country, helping to keep war out of the U.S., and he deserves justice,” she said.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Bergdahl’s attorney, Eugene Fidell, said it was possible to try his client for being AWOL for one day. But the charge of “misbehavior before the enemy”—meant for someone who “runs away” or “shamefully abandons” his unit—that, Fidell said, is “a grave abuse“ of the Army’s criminal code.
Experts have said it could take weeks for the completion of the Article 32 hearing report. Eventually, it will be up to Gen. Robert B. Abrams, the head of U.S. Army Forces Command, to decide how to proceed in Bergdahl’s case.