Members of Congress are pushing back against a presidential pardon request by controversial former prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl, calling it the wrong message to send to the military and the country.
"Bowe Bergdahl's decision to abandon his post in a combat zone during the height of the Afghan insurgency was a clear violation of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice," Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., wrote in a letter to the White House opposing the idea. "His actions must be judged by the pending court-martial."
Bergdahl, an Army sergeant held captive by the Taliban for five years, has been accused of "misbehavior" and endangering his fellow service members by abandoning his post in while deployed to Afghanistan.
The move has been portrayed by his defenders as the actions of a troubled would-be whistleblower upset with readiness and leadership problems in his unit. But his critics say his capture put the lives of countless troops at risk, including those called into the region to try and rescue him.
In May 2014, Bergdahl was freed by his Taliban captors in exchange for the release of five enemy combatants being held at the Naval Station Guantanamo Bay detention facility. That move prompted many in Congress to attack President Barack Obama for freeing dangerous individuals in exchange for a man they labeled an American traitor.
Last year, Army officials opted to charge him with crimes against the military. His court-martial is scheduled to begin next spring.
Bergdahl’s defense team submitted the clemency request to the White House late last month. Administration officials are reviewing the request, but several lawmakers are urging the outgoing president to drop the idea.
"It has been seven years since Sgt. Bergdahl chose to abandon his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan during a time of war," said Air Force veteran Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., in a statement Tuesday. "He should be court-martialed and held accountable."
Coffman, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq, warned that such a move by Obama would "seriously undermine the military court-martial process and send the wrong message to the hundreds of thousands of men and women in uniform who have served honorably in combat."
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a Marine Corps veteran who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, has also come out against the idea.
"The Army constantly argues that it has a process and that process has to take its course, and it should in this case," said Hunter’s spokesman, Joe Kasper. "Whether or not to issue a pardon should only come once the full process has been exhausted, and we’re still far from that point."
Bergdahl’s lawyers have said that if Obama does not grant a pardon, they will move for dismissal of the case once President-elect Donald Trump takes office, given his past inflammatory — and they argue prejudicial — remarks about Bergdahl needing to face execution for his crimes.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.