On June 30, 2009, in Mest Malak, Afghanistan, Bowe Bergdahl left his unit and deserted the U.S. Army. We know he deserted because we were there when he did it.
We are confident that the overdue report from political and military leaders on Bergdahl’s actions, sitting on a general’s desk since October, comes to the same conclusion. It has to because the facts are clear.
Whatever the reason is for the late report and confused reporting about whether Bergdahl is set to be charged with desertion, justice is being denied to those of us who were abandoned by a fellow soldier.
The White House ceremony in May to announce the exchange of five senior Taliban detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison for our former platoon member sparked a national debate on a variety of controversial issues: executive power, mental health care, the War on Terror, prisoners of war, due process and legal justice. It is troubling to us that President Obama and his political team are silencing this needed public debate by not making the release of this report a priority.
In light of the new information that some of the Taliban prisoners swapped for our former platoonmate made moves to re-enter the war, we believe that this debate must begin in earnest by issuing a report on the facts.
Like most people, we have opinions about how Bowe’s release affects these issues. Unlike others though, we were his team leaders, friends and brothers in arms. We have firsthand knowledge of the case and were interviewed as part of the investigation.
For five years, Bowe was held captive and likely tortured, suffering a fate that haunted us daily. We might never understand what happened inside the Taliban prisons that held him, nor will we know what was said in the political backrooms in Washington, D.C., that led to his release. Even so, the facts of his desertion need to be known in order to understand what the consequences and precedent will be if his acts go unpunished.
Here is what we know:
•Bowe claimed in a video filmed during his captivity that he fell behind on a patrol. This is false. As any member of the U.S. armed forces can tell you, our most fundamental operating procedures make this impossible. Soldiers do not “fall behind” like a child in an aisle at a grocery store. In every Army platoon on patrol, all members maintain visual contact at all times.
•Observation Post Mest was a small and relatively obscure base for roughly 30 Army soldiers. That June 30, as on all other days, OP Mest was completely secure. The only way off the base was to put one foot in front of the other. Our platoon went to sleep. When we woke up the next morning, we were down a man.
•Days before Bowe disappeared, our platoon leader told us to plan to leave the OP and transition responsibility to the local Afghan National Police detachment. For reasons unknown to us, Bowe mailed his belongings — letters, laptop, photos and personal items — back to America. It’s hard to know exactly what Bowe’s intentions were, but it’s clear that he was planning for a permanent departure, not just from his post but from the military — even though eight months remained in our deployment.
•No one walks off an OP in Afghanistan unaccompanied for any reason. And no one goes anywhere without his weapon. Reports that Bowe had often previously left the base alone are inaccurate.
•Upon discovering Bowe was missing, our platoon was directed to focus on finding and interviewing potential eyewitnesses to his departure in the surrounding villages. Several local villagers reported seeing an American fitting Bowe’s description that morning, alone, including one Afghan boy who said he saw a soldier crawling through tall grass away from OP Mest. Team leader Evan Buetow monitored the radio with the aid of an interpreter, who reported hearing the locals discussing an American asking to contact the Taliban.
We are eager to hear Bowe’s side of the story. We, platoon members he committed to stay with and protect, have many questions that deserve answers. While the details of Bowe’s captivity are difficult to hear, we are concerned by the glaring holes in his narrative.
For those of us who served with him and upheld our oath to defend this nation, we ask for nothing more than the prompt scheduling of a court-martial for Bowe Bergdahl. We are eager to hear him defend his actions.
Evan Buetow and Cody Full served the U.S. Army in Afghanistan as members of the Second Platoon, Blackfoot Company in the First Battalion, 501st Regiment.. Read more at The Californian