Several soldiers who served with Bowe Bergdahl, the recently freed U.S. prisoner of war in Afghanistan, would like to tell you how to deal with that dirtbag. They don't want to get into the politics, but they have ideas. Would you like to book them for your show? Just call the Republican strategists representing them.
Many soldiers who served with or searched for Bergdahl after he was taken prisoner in Afghanistan are justifiably angry about the circumstances surrounding his Taliban capture. The preponderance of the evidence suggests he probably deserted his Army post, and the search for him cost American materiel and lives. But rather than waiting for a military process to answer those questions and pronounce judgment on Bergdahl—the Army's top general, in fact, said today that charges are still possible—several of the soldiers have agreed to participate in a GOP-run dog-and-pony show, swift-boat style, for electoral advantage.
How do we know? We read it in the New York Times this morning:
The release of Sergeant Bergdahl (he was promoted in captivity) has created political problems for the Obama administration, which is having to defend his exchange for five Taliban detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, but it also presents delicate politics for Republicans who are attacking, through surrogates, America's last known prisoner of war...
"Yes, I'm angry," Joshua Cornelison, a former medic in Sergeant Bergdahl's platoon, said in an interview on Monday arranged by Republican strategists. "Everything that we did in those days was to advance the search for Bergdahl"...
"He wouldn't drink beer or eat barbecue and hang out with the other 20-year-olds," Cody Full, another member of Sergeant Bergdahl's platoon, said in an interview on Monday also arranged by Republican strategists. "He was always in his bunk. He ordered Rosetta Stone for all the languages there, learning Dari and Arabic and Pashto."
Okay, but they are soldiers who were there, and they're just giving the facts, right?
The furious search for Sergeant Bergdahl, his critics say, led to the deaths of at least two soldiers and possibly six others in the area. Pentagon officials say those charges are unsubstantiated and are not supported by a review of a database of casualties in the Afghan war...
A review of the database of casualties in the Afghan war suggests that Sergeant Bergdahl's critics appear to be blaming him for every American soldier killed in Paktika Province in the four-month period that followed his disappearance.
Mr. Cornelison and Mr. Full both said they wanted to see Sergeant Bergdahl court-martialed as a deserter. "I'm not going to speak on the political, but I think that now that he's back, he needs to be held accountable," Mr. Full said.
Mr. Cornelison echoed Mr. Full. "I won't get into the politics, but now that he's back he needs to be held 100 percent accountable," he said. "For putting myself and 29 other people in my platoon in hell for 90 days."
Not that this couldn't be predicted: As we noted yesterday, Cody Full, one of the soldiers provided to the Times by those GOP flacks (he's already made the rounds on Fox News, as well), has spent the last few weeks on Twitter castigating "libtard[s]" and decrying minimum wage hikes.
All soldiers have the right to relate their stories. Listening to them adds to our understanding of their lives and experiences, and it gives them agency and closure that doesn't always come at the end of their tour. Sometimes that entails an emotional rant—one that makes listeners uncomfortable—and that's okay.
But when you massage that emotion into a prepackaged, bloody-shirt-waving, data-denying political missile concealed as a neutral account—"one soldier's story"—you're "speaking on the political" before you even you open your mouth.
Update: Via Rosie Gray at Buzzfeed:
WASHINGTON — A former Bush Administration official hired, then resigned, as Mitt Romney's foreign policy spokesman played a key role in publicizing critics of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the released prisoner of war.
The involvement of Richard Grenell, who once served as a key aide to Bush-era U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton and later worked for Romney's 2012 campaign, comes as the Bergdahl release has turned into an increasingly vicious partisan issue...
Grenell and his current business partner, Brad Chase, have spent the morning angrily tweeting that while they are the "Republican strategists" identified by the Times, they are not Republican strategists. They simply gathered all these soldiers to trash Bergdahl and the DOD and President Obama out of their desire to get the truth out, because there was clearly no possible way that could have happened without them.
Media bookers who brought the soldiers on air seem to feel differently, according to Gray:
"Obviously Ric is a well known Republican and these guys found him on Twitter and reached out asking for help in getting their story out," Chase said. "Ric obviously saw that this is something that needed to be told and came to me and others in our firm, and I and some of the others determined that this was a story that we wanted to work on."
Chase said the New York Times' referring to them as "Republican strategists" was "100% factually inaccurate" because he himself is not a Republican. But a producer for the Michael Berry show, a radio show that one of the soldiers spoke on told BuzzFeed that Grenell was the point of contact for the bookings.
So let us clarify: Brad Chase is not a "Republican strategist." He voted for Kerry! He is simply working for Republican strategist Richard Grenell and uses his Twitter feed to antagonize Democrats and has campaigned to get the Keystone XL pipeline approved, boost "clean coal," support fracking, and limit Medicare coverage, and just happens to be helping Grenell in this well-intentioned campaign to get earned media for soldiers to opine on politics above and beyond their experience levels in a way that could score points against the Obama administration in an election year.
Now, stop politicizing this!