No Need to Prosecute Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl

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from The New York Times,

It won’t be hard for military lawyers to argue that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl violated military regulations when he slipped out of a remote outpost in Afghanistan in 2009 and became a Taliban prisoner for five years.

They would have a tougher time explaining why it’s worthwhile to prosecute a soldier the Army recruited despite significant concerns about his psychological state and who endured years of torture and privation during his captivity. As a general matter, the American military has good reason to punish service members who desert. However, it should exercise discretion in extraordinary cases. Sergeant Bergdahl’s is certainly one.

n a statement about the conditions of his detention, released by his lawyer on Wednesday after the Army’s announcement that it had filed charges, Sergeant Bergdahl says he was chained to a bed, locked in a cage, shackled and at times beaten. He had sores from his shackles and became skeletal as a result of poor nutrition and chronic ailments.

When Sergeant Bergdahl returned home last summer after the Obama administration agreed to release five Taliban prisoners in exchange for his freedom, it soon became clear that many people in the military harbored deep animosity toward him. Some called him a coward and argued that he put troops in Afghanistan in harm’s way as they devoted significant resources and energy to searching for him. This anger is understandable.

But trying him for desertion and misbehaving before the enemy — for allegedly engaging in misconduct that endangered his unit — stands to accomplish little at this point. A conviction would most likely deprive a traumatized veteran of benefits, including medical care, which he will probably need for years. A dishonorable discharge would make it harder to rebuild his life as a civilian.

A trial would publicly raise important questions about how Sergeant Bergdahl was allowed into the Army and whether there were missed opportunities to avert the crisis his capture created. Those questions, however, should be addressed outside of a courtroom.

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