Responding to the evolving Taliban prisoner-swap story, Politico’s Roger Simon suggested on MSNBC’s NewsNation program that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers had faulty memories on the details of Bergdahl’s disappearance and that we should not “take as absolute legal fact five-year old memories from people who served with Bergdahl under circumstances of great stress.”
In further defending President Obama’s five-for-one prisoner swap, the liberal columnist insisted there would be “little public appetite” for the wheels of military justice to grind through an investigation and possible court martial for Bergdahl. Fortunately for viewers, host Tamron Hall also had NBC military analyst Barry McCaffrey on at the same time to offer his rebuttal. The former Clinton administration drug czar strongly beat back the notion that this had anything to do with the memories of his comrades [MP3 audio here; video below]:
I think that first of all, it is not five year-old memories. There was an investigation at the time and there is no question he walked away. He was not abducted and was not left behind on the patrol. If we don't take a hard look at the circumstances, Bergdahl will be a medically retired staff sergeant getting a couple of hundred thousand in back pay and we will pay for him for the rest of the life as fruits of his own misconduct.
McCaffrey also asserted that this was not a question of whether the American government should leave someone behind. Rather, McCaffrey suggested, this was a question of “whether it was an outrageous misjudgment by the president to publicly seem to embrace this soldier. He should have stayed out of it.”
McCaffrey’s measured approach was made even more apparent by Roger Simon’s blithe dismissal of the memory and intelligence of Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers. As McCaffrey explained above, there was a full investigation done in 2010 by the Pentagon, which determined conclusively that Bergdahl had deserted. This finding is not–as Simon believes out of blind loyalty to the president–a result of the faulty memories of a few soldiers.
While it can certainly be expected that the left-wing media will criticize the right for any objection to the president’s policies, making rash assumptions about the intellect of those in battle is an insult to all who have served.
The relevant transcript is printed below:
June 3, 2014
11:09 a.m. Eastern
TAMRON HALL, host: And now let me bring in Roger Simon, chief columnist for politico and NBC news and military analyst and former National Security Council member and retired four-star general Barry McCaffrey. And let me start with you, general, that you know that many of the members of the platoon and including one gentleman, former army specialist Jeremy Sutton have said that he should face–Bergdahl should face--court-martial for desertion, because that’s exactly what he did, and it is premeditated. What is your thought today, general, as we know that there is an investigation and a lot to be hashed out here, but we do know that in 2010, the Pentagon concluded that he walked away, his mental state we don’t know a lot of those details, but the members of the platoon are outraged.
General BARRY MCCAFFREY (Retired), NBC News military analyst: Well, let me start by saying that I'm proud of NBC news in the way they have handled it to bring out the correct side of the story. Last night Miklaszewski, this morning the Today Show, and your questions were objective and dead on target, and needed to be said. Look, this is not a question of whether we leave somebody behind, it is a question of whether it was an outrageous misjudgment by the president to publicly seem to embrace this soldier. He should have stayed out of it. We had the chairman of the JCS, General Dempsey issue a written statement today and he is not in the chain of command, but a senior serving military officer, and they should not be involved in the case publicly, which is appropriate for national debate, and then finally, what you have brought out, there is no question about misconduct in walking away from his post, in the face of an armed enemy. The only question, desertion and this sort of thing have legal definitions. Did he intend to stay gone? Did he intend to join the Taliban? Was he using drugs when he left? Those are appropriate further questions, but this guy was a disaster. He did contribute to a major problem inside of the military forces. People were killed and injured trying to the recover him. So, bravo to NBC news for the way that you have handled it.
HALL: Well, Roger, let me bring you in. Michael Hastings who has passed away reported on this for some time, and two the stories I believe were the details and the questions regarding Bowe Bergdahl and the disappearance were made clear in Hastings' writings. I read one of the blogs for example from one of the platoon members, Roger, and he said that the media is talking about it now, but for the past five years they have been very vocal despite being told otherwise to remain silent until he is rescued and making these details public. Roger what is confusing to me, and I think General McCaffrey said it, a lot of people don't debate the issue of leaving no person behind and we don't want to leave anyone and nor should anyone be left behind but when we ask the question, why was he there or what General McCaffrey said, did he intend to be rescued, it turns into a political battle where online right now, my Twitter account, a lot of the liberals are furious that we are even asking this question.
ROGER SIMON, Politico: Well, I agree 100% with about 50% of what General McCaffrey says. I agree that there are circumstances around Sergeant Bergdahl's disappearance that deserve more scrutiny and investigation, but I don't think we should take as absolute legal fact five year old memories from people who served with Bergdahl under circumstances of great stress. And as to whether the president should have involved himself, this is the only point I disagree, I think, with the general. You can't release five major prisoners from Guantanamo on a prisoner swap and not have the president of the United States involve himself. The president of the United States is involved in everything these days. The White House has changed its talking point. Yesterday, the talking point was that Sergeant Bergdahl served with honor and distinction,that is gone. Today, the talking point is, regardless of the circumstances under which he disappeared, whatever those circumstances might be, the United States wanted him back. That was said by the president, echoed by Hillary Clinton, and the fact remains that he is back in the arms of the U.S. Military. They could still try him if they want. I think that there is going to be little public appetite for that, but certainly the military justice system could continue to function in this case.
MCCAFFREY: Well, yeah, but I think that first of all, it is not five year-old memories. There was an investigation at the time and there is no question he walked away. He was not abducted and was not left behind on the patrol. If we don't take a hard look at the circumstances, Bergdahl will be a medically retired staff sergeant getting a couple of hundred thousand in back pay and we will pay for the him for the rest of the life as fruits of his own misconduct. So, again, it is inappropriate in my view for the president and the chairman of the JCS or anyone in public life now to comment on it. It is not inappropriate for us to have a debate about this issue, so, you know, the president risks massive loss of credibility inside of his fighting forces. 2.3 million men and women who are going to be watching this pretty closely.