Speaking of Bowe Bergdahl, Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt have a fascinating piece in the New York Times that just went up. They got hold of a detailed report that was written two months after Bergdahl walked off, and what makes it interesting is that it’s based on extensive contemporaneous interviews. This allows us to compare what people are saying now with what they were saying back then. For example, there’s this:
A classified military report detailing the Army’s investigation into the disappearance of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in June 2009 says that he had wandered away from assigned areas before — both at a training range in California and at his remote outpost in Afghanistan — and then returned, according to people briefed on it.
….Whether Sergeant Bergdahl was a deserter who never intended to come back, or simply slipped away for a short adventure amid an environment of lax security and discipline and then was captured is one of many unanswered questions about his disappearance. The issue is murky, the report said, in light of Sergeant Bergdahl’s previous episodes of walking off.
The report is said to contain no mention of Sergeant Bergdahl having left behind a letter in his tent that explicitly said he was deserting and explaining his disillusionment, as a retired senior military official briefed on the investigation at the time told The New York Times this week. Asked about what appeared to be a disconnect, the retired officer insisted that he remembered reading a field report discussing the existence of such a letter in the early days of the search and was unable to explain why it is not mentioned in the final investigative report.
Its portrayal of him as a soldier is said to be positive, with quotes from both commanders and squadmates — apparently including some of the men now criticizing him — describing him as punctual, always in the correct uniform and asking good questions. It quotes colleagues as saying that he expressed some boredom and frustration that they were not “kicking down doors” more to go after insurgents who were destroying schools.
The report is also said to contain no mention of any alleged intercepts of radio or cellphone traffic indicating that Sergeant Bergdahl was asking villagers if anyone spoke English and trying to get in touch with the Taliban, as two former squadmates told CNN this week in separate interviews that they remembered hearing about from a translator who received the report.
The moral of this story is simple: memories can change, and once you’ve taken sides you’re likely to embellish things considerably. The stuff that Bergdahl’s critics are saying today may be accurate, or it may be a product of anger growing out of control over the passage of time. We really need to wait before rushing to judgment.