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Editorial: Many questions, limited facts

The definitive facts in the case of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, accused as a deserter and possible enemy collaborator by some of his former comrades and held for five years by the Taliban, may not come out until the full military investigation is completed — if ever.

What passes for his story today has been jumped upon by political partisans and used as a bully pulpit to lash out at the president. Had Bergdahl not been recovered and died in captivity it is a veritable certainty that the same critics would be lashing out at the president under those circumstances, too.

Each report across the spectrum of national media shares a slightly different set of information, much paraded as fact though much is actually second-hand, heavily interpreted or unconfirmed.

Some of the things we do know about this case:

  1. Military personnel, like the private citizens on behalf of whom they serve, are accorded due process to determine innocence or guilt.

It would have been impossible to provide that due process with Bergdahl in captivity with the Taliban.

The constant batting back and forth of information that may or may not be accurate can’t provide that. Only allowing the military to conduct its investigation and, if necessary, Bergdahl to have his day in court can.

  1. President Barack Obama once again circumvented the law by approving the exchange of Bergdahl, for five Taliban leaders who have alternatively been described as “high level” and “aging.”

Under U.S. law, Obama was required to notify Congress 30 days before the release of anyone from Guantanamo Bay, but he didn’t.

Once again, Obama decided that, as an imperial president, the law does not apply to him. He cited concerns over Bergdahl’s health, which might be easier to justify if this particular case couldn’t be added to a growing trend of ignoring the law of the land and the rights and responsibilities of Congress.

Republicans have, as expected, jumped on this issue as yet another opportunity take the president to task. But quite a few Democrats have also expressed strong reservations in the wake of the his actions.

The Boston Globe called this case “trivial” in comparison to some of Obama’s other actions, which have gone relatively disputed:

“If Obama’s trade of five Taliban operatives as the price to purchase Bergdahl’s freedom represents an affront to Congress, then what are we to make of his initiating a war against Libya back in 2011 without having secured prior legislative approval? ...Why not convene hearings to inquire into the legacy of Obama’s extra-constitutional war to overthrow the despicable Colonel Moammar Khadafy? Ousting Khadafy was ostensibly going to advance the cause of democracy. Instead of democracy there is anarchy. Hasn’t [House Speaker John] Boehner noticed? Doesn’t he care?”

The U.S. Constitution frames the government of this land in three branches: executive, judicial and legislative.

Obama apparently believes it needs only two.

  1. Bergdahl “willfully walked off the base,” a 2010 Defense investigation concluded, something he had done before in violation of military regulations.

Much of the rest of what the media is chewing over (and over and over) in this case is a matter of supposition and speculation, including the question of whether military personnel died in attempting to bring Bergdahl back to base.

Regardless of Bergdahl’s actions, the biggest question on this issue is how to balance the nation’s commitment to bring all its military people home — Bergdahl was the last in captivity — against the potential harm of freeing alleged war criminals. In line with that concern is the question of when is a war over.

While most U.S. troops have been pulled back, some are still in harm’s way and the situation in Afghanistan is far from stable, as the assassination attempt against the presidential frontrunner there this week illustrates.

The furor over this issue is inhibiting government’s ability to focus on higher priorities, and making it impossible for one family to publicly celebrate their son’s return from captivity.


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