Should Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl be allowed to keep his Prisoner of War Medal and Purple Heart?
The controversy surrounding Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl continues to swirl and shows no sign of being resolved quickly. The soldier, who had been stationed in Afghanistan and held captive by the Haqqani network, a Taliban-affiliated group, was either, according to which side of the argument you’re on, a very troubled young man in a traumatizing situation, or a deserter.
Leaving other issues aside, according to normal Army protocol, Sgt. Bergdahl would be eligible to receive two significant medals: the Prisoner of War Medal for spending five years in captivity in enemy hands while performing “creditable U.S. military service” and the Purple Heart for being wounded by an enemy force — several Army witnesses have already testified that Bergdahl was tortured by the enemy while being held captive.
Under the ambiguous circumstances of Sgt. Bergdahl’s disappearance from the base, however, which appear to involve deliberately walking away from his infantry platoon’s base in 2009, deserting his comrades and putting their lives in danger as they searched for him, many believe he should forfeit all honors that would otherwise be due to him. Nonetheless, the Army has determined that no decision concerning his receiving of the medals in question will be made until he has gone through the court-martial process, facing prosecution for apparently deliberately abandoning his comrades.
The question of whether Bergdahl will receive two other medals, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the NATO Medal, is also going to be decided after the court-martial decision. The Afghanistan Campaign Medal typically goes automatically to all service members who have served in Afghanistan for 30 consecutive days or 60 non-consecutive days. The NATO Medal, on the other hand, is given to service members who serve in a variety of international commands in which NATO plays a part.
While Bergdahl faces a possible sentence of life in prison for desertion, his attorneys say that he deserves the same presumption of innocence as any other prisoner. Even Lt. Col. Jerry Pionk, a spokesperson for the Army, wrote, in an email to The Washington Post, that Bergdahl’s award eligibility for any of these awards cannot be determined until after his court-martial in order to maintain “compliance with governing statutes and regulations.” Though from the point of view of Bergdahl’s attorneys, not allowing him to wear his medals during the trial is prejudicial, he will have to forego the privilege, at least until the trial is over.
Everything about the Bergdahl case has evoked high emotions, including the prisoner swap the White House approved in May 2014, during which five Taliban officials were released to the Qatari Government in exchange for Bergdahl. At the time, President Obama declared that “the United States has an ‘ironclad commitment to bring our prisoners of war home.”
If you find yourself faced with court-martial charges, you should most definitely be represented by an attorney who specializes in court-martial law. A competent and experienced court-martial lawyer will help to resolve your charges in the most positive way possible.