In The News – Released POW’s Critics Say He’s a Deserter
Washington, D.C.—The release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl after five years of captivity in Afghanistan brought relief to his parents and hometown but backlash from fellow soldiers. In 2009, Bergdahl disappeared from his post while on guard duty. During searches for him, at least six U.S. soldiers were killed, other operations were shuttered, and scarce resources were redirected. “All because of the selfish acts of one person,” said a soldier.
The animosity stems from assertions that Bergdahl, now 28, was a deserter. According to e-mails he allegedly sent his parents—e-mails that haven’t been independently verified—Bergdahl said he was “ashamed to even be American.” A former member of Bergdahl’s squad claims that Bergdahl once said, “If deployment is lame, I’m going to get lost in the mountains.”
Former Pfc. Jose Baggett said, “Nobody knows if he defected or he’s a traitor or he was kidnapped. What I do know is, he was there to protect us, and instead he decided to defer from America and go and do his own thing.”
Critics say Bergdahl should face a military trial. But Defense secretary Chuck Hagel said the first priority is Bergdahl’s health and that other questions “will be dealt with later.” Bergdahl is being treated at a military hospital in Germany and hasn’t been reunited with his family yet.
Some people say even if Bergdahl deserted, five years of Taliban captivity is enough of a punishment. Others say any mistreatment is irrelevant if he abandoned his post.
Other people are upset that the United States traded five Guantanamo Bay detainees for Bergdahl’s release. Sen. John McCain, a former POW, called the prisoners “hardened terrorists who have the blood of Americans and countless Afghans on their hands.” A law requires the administration to notify Congress 30 days before releasing any Gitmo detainees. But officials said Bergdahl’s deteriorating health warranted an exception.
In a tearful news conference, Bergdahl’s parents said they’re proud of their son and know he faces a long recovery. His mom, Jani, said, “You are from a strong tribe; you are even stronger now.”
Sources: cnn.com, Associated Press
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Discussion Questions for Student Small Groups
How do you feel about Bergdahl’s release, as well as the mixed reactions to it? Should the circumstances of his initial disappearance play a role in how he’s welcomed home? Why or why not?
If your loved one had been killed during the search for Bergdahl, how would you feel about this release? Was the trade deal appropriate, in your opinion? Why is it so tough to put a price on freedom—or on a human life?
What challenges do you expect Bergdahl and his family to face during the upcoming months and years? What will they need to do to successfully reunite as a family?
If Bergdahl indeed deserted his post, is five years of captivity sufficient punishment? Or should he be held accountable through the military justice system? Explain.
From a soldier’s perspective, why is desertion such a major offense? Think of a time when you felt deserted by someone you thought was a friend. What was that like? How did it affect your willingness to trust, down the road?
Think of a time you felt deserted by God. What assured or reminded you that he indeed hadn’t left you on your own? What advice would you give someone who feels abandoned or ignored by God, especially during a tough time?
Why is it so tempting to focus on only our own needs, rather than on the needs of a larger group? How can people overcome their selfish tendencies? What helps instill social responsibility in young people today?
Do you agree that tough times always make a person stronger? Why or why not? Have you ever faced any challenges or temptations that you weren’t sure you’d be able to endure? If so, how did you approach them? How did God help you through those experiences?
Scripture links: Psalm 142; Proverbs 18:1-3; Isaiah 49:14-16; Luke 15:25-32; 1 Corinthians 10:13; and James 3:13-18.