The 5 Taliban prisoners released by the U.S. in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl. (The Pentagon has always recommended that these prisoners not be released.)

Sometime after midnight on June 30, 2009, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl left behind a note in his tent saying he had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan and was leaving to start a new life. He slipped off the remote military outpost in Paktika Province on the border with Pakistan and took with him a soft backpack, water, knives, a notebook and writing materials, but left behind his body armor and weapons – startling, given the hostile environment around his outpost.  He was subsequently captured by the Taliban and held as a prisoner for the past 5 years.  President Obama’s decision last week to exchange Sergeant Bergdahl (he was promoted in captivity) for 5 Taliban terrorists held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba has caused congressional Republicans and others to suggest this trade could allow dangerous Taliban leaders to return to the fight, might encourage terrorist groups to seize American hostages and possibly violated a law requiring notification of Congress.

(from CBS News) AP – In his hometown of Hailey, Idaho, signs celebrate Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl‘s release after he was held for five years by the Taliban. But there is concern, especially in military circles, about whether Bergdahl should be welcomed as a hero, or punished as a deserter.

It is widely believed that Bergdahl walked off the base where he was stationed in Afghanistan in 2009. CBS News’ David Martin reports that one Pentagon official described him as “at worst, a deserter. At best, a stupid kid who caused us to expend great energy and resources to bring him home.”

Bowe Bergdahl

Bowe Bergdahl

A Pentagon investigation concluded in 2010 that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl walked away from his unit, and after an initial flurry of searching the military decided not to exert extraordinary efforts to rescue him, the AP reported Monday, citing a former senior defense official who was involved in the matter.

The former Pentagon official told the AP it was “incontrovertible” [indisputable; certain] that he walked away from his unit.

The military investigation was broader than a criminal inquiry, this official said, and it didn’t formally accuse Bergdahl of desertion. In interviews, members of his unit portrayed him as a naive, “delusional” person who thought he could help the Afghan people by leaving his army post, the official said.

Former members of Bergdahl’s unit have taken to the airwaves and social media calling him a deserter and alleging other soldiers were actually killed searching for him.

Josh Korder, a former sergeant in Bergdahl’s unit, has the names of those soldiers tattooed on his body.

“They were never nationally televised for their sacrifices in the way that he is and he pretty much voluntarily walked away and in turn, caused, you know, the actions that may have killed them,”Korder told CNN.

Nathan Bradley Bethea, who served as an officer in Bergdahl’s unit, said in an article Monday on the Daily Beast website that Bergdahl was not on patrol, as some reports have suggested.

“There was no patrol that night,” he wrote. “Bergdahl was relieved from guard duty, and instead of going to sleep, he fled the outpost on foot. He deserted. I’ve talked to members of Bergdahl’s platoon – including the last Americans to see him before his capture. I’ve reviewed the relevant documents. That’s what happened.”

In his piece, Bethea named six American soldiers he said were killed in the search for Bergdahl.

“For the veterans of the units that lost these men, Bergdahl’s capture and the subsequent hunt for him will forever tie to their memories, and to a time in their lives that will define them as people,” Bethea wrote. “He has finally returned. Those men will never have the opportunity.”

Barack Obama, Jani Bergdah, Bob Bergdahl

President Obama with Bob and Jani Bergdahl, during a news conference at the White House on May 31 announcing the release of their son, U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl, 28, had been held prisoner by the Taliban since June 30, 2009. He was handed over to U.S. special forces by the Taliban in exchange for the release of five Afghan detainees held by the U.S.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel declined to comment on earlier reports that the sergeant had walked away from his unit, disillusioned with the war. Such matters “will be dealt with later,” Hagel said.

Hagel, visiting troops in Afghanistan, was met with silence when he told a group of them in a Bagram Airfield hangar: “This is a happy day. We got one of our own back.”

Rolling Stone magazine quoted emails Bergdahl is said to have sent to his parents that suggest he was disillusioned with America’s mission in Afghanistan, had lost faith in the U.S. Army’s mission there and was considering desertion.

Bergdahl told his parents he was “ashamed to even be American.” Bergdahl, who mailed home boxes containing his uniform and books, also wrote: “The future is too good to waste on lies. And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong.”

Detractors have created a Facebook page called “Bowe Bergdahl is NOT a hero.” There is also a petition calling for Bergdahl to be court martialed for desertion. “Bring punishment to Bowe Bergdahl and let the public know that the military holds all members to the same standard,” the petition reads.

Back in his Idaho hometown, CBS News’ Bigad Shaban reports how Bergdahl’s supporters in the tight-knit community are preparing a hero’s welcome. The annual “Bring Bowe Back” rally later this month has been turned into a celebration now called “Bowe IS Back.”

Questions about his capture, supporters told Shaban, aren’t their concern.

“He did his best to be an Army soldier,” said Sue Martin, the owner of Zaney’s River Street Coffee House, where Bergdahl used to work. “He’s done enough after five years.”

Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from CBS News. Visit the website at cbsnews .com.


NOTE: “Answers” emails have ended for the school year and will resume September 2nd.
Daily posting will end for the summer on June 13th and will resume August 25th.

1.  Who is Bowe Bergdahl?

2.  How was Pfc. Bergdahl captured by the Taliban? (What is questionable about his capture?)

3.  What is controversial about the way Bergdahl gained his freedom after 5 years?

4.  How do former members of Bergdahl’s unit view his disappearance?

5.  What does Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel say about reports that Bergdahl had deserted his unit that leads you to believe this is indeed true?

6.  Watch the video under “Resources” below.  After he was captured, Bergdahl said on a video released by his captors that he lagged behind on patrol, although other sources in the military suggested anonymously that he walked away from his post. CNN’s Jake Tapper also reported that many of Bergdahl’s fellow troops were ordered to sign nondisclosure agreements agreeing to never share any information about Bergdahl’s disappearance and the efforts to recapture him. One explained that now he was safe, more soldiers would be trying to tell the truth of his disappearance.  Some are calling for his court-martial for desertion.  A senior Defense Department official indicated that the Army would probably not be punishing the sergeant for any violations of rules. “Whatever he may have done, I think he’s more than paid for it,” the official said. “Five years is a long time.”
What do you think:   If he did really desert, should he be court-martialed?  Explain your answer.  (Consider the following:  He was not forced to join the military.  He volunteered to serve.  He wanted to help the Afghan people.  He obviously became disillusioned.  Did he have an obligation to his fellow soldiers?  If it was really as bad as he said, did his perception of the military and of America justify his decision to abandon his outfit?) Explain your answer.


Bergdahl was serving with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment in Paktika province near the Pakistani border with Afghanistan when he went missing in the early hours of June 30, 2009.

He had been at part of an Observation Post with 28 colleagues men and a few trucks set up in a defensive position to protect themselves.

Some of the men were sleeping in the trucks they had driven in on and others were camped out with their sleeping bags in the open. It was not until the 9am roll call that they realized he was gone.

A week earlier he had sent his belongings and computer home to his parents after setting out in an email to his father that he was ‘ashamed to be an American’ after what he had seen in Afghanistan.

The New York Times reported Bergdahl left behind a note when he disappeared in which he said he did not want to fight for America any more, did not believe in the war – and was leaving to start a new life.

The letter to his comrades was separate from the email he sent to his parents before he sent his belongings home to them, wherein he wrote: “life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong…. I am ashamed to be an American. And the title of US soldier is just the lie of fools,” he concluded. “I am sorry for everything. The horror that is America is disgusting.” Bob Bergdahl responded in an email: “Obey your conscience!”

Additional stories on Bowe Bergdahl:


A look back at the story of Bowe Bergdal and a recent interview with two men who served with him:

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