Recently, the Associated Press announced that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl plans to plead guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. This may seem like the right move for Bergdahl, who may well be the most universally reviled American soldiers of his generation.
The Plea Statement
If he does indeed plea out, that decision will nearly bring to an end one of the most watched military controversies over the past eight years. After leaving his unit in the field, Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban and held captive for about five years.
Since he was released into the care of the military, Bergdahl has become an epithet. President Trump has said he should have been executed, and millions of Americans absolutely agree with that assessment. Instead, he will face about five years for desertion and a possible life sentence for the other charge. Now, a judge will decide his fate. The sentencing phase is expected to start later in October. That is expected to be a heavily reported event. Several soldiers who were wounded while on a mission to find Bergdahl, are planning to testify.
Media Not Jumping to Conclusion
The media has not said whether or not the defendant’s plea is part of a deal previously reached by the advocates involved. At this point, only an Army spokesman has offered comment, telling the Associated Press: “We continue to maintain careful respect for the military-judicial process, the rights of the accused and ensuring the case’s fairness and impartiality during this ongoing legal case…”
Public opinion, though, is not necessarily inclined to “impartiality” in this case. Bergdahl, no matter what happens during the sentencing in his trial, will likely see his name go down in historic infamy.
Military desertions are certainly nothing new, but this particular case became a political hot-button from nearly the moment it was first reported. When the Obama administration officials worked out a deal to get Bergdahl back, pundits on the right went ballistic. From that moment forward, every aspect of this case became a high-profile political matter, not just another military disciplinary action.
History with Bergdahl
Back in May 2014, Bergdahl was traded by the Taliban for the return of five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay prison. This five-to-one swap further enraged those who were already angry with Bergdahl. They called him a “traitor” and worse. President Obama countered, saying, “We do not leave our men or women in uniform behind… Whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity. Period. Full stop.”
But Bergdahl’s detractors and President Obama’s political foes were not the least bit finished, and they had no intention of stopping.
Those added factors put a massive amount of political and PR pressure on everyone making any decisions in this case, and it virtually assures Bergdahl that any hope of redemption and repairing his reputation is a longshot, at best.
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.