Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, whose release from captivity under the Taliban has sparked an uproar among those concerned that freeing five high-ranking Taliban officials for his freedom puts Americans in danger, made have exhibited signs of mental illness before joining the Army.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Bergdahl was discharged from a post with the Coast Guard in early 2006. His discharge was “uncharacterized,” which the newspaper describes as a term that “applies to people discharged before completing 180 days of service.” Given the short term Bergdahl served, no record was kept of why he was discharged, but the Post argues, using his private journals and comments to friends at the time as evidence, that there was reason to believe he was discharged from the Coast Guard for “psychological reasons.”
Kim Harrison, a friend to whom Bergdahl entrusted his private diary, showed the Washington Post some of its contents so as to attempt to dispel the widely-shared belief by many who served alongside Bergdahl that he deserted his post and deliberately sought out the Taliban, putting American lives in danger and allegedly causing the deaths of six soldiers in his battalion. “She has become concerned about the portrayal of Bergdahl as a calculating deserter, which she contends is at odds with her understanding of him as a sensitive, vulnerable young man,” the Post writes of Harrison.
While many of the diary entries the Post publishes depict Bergdahl as frightened and sensitive, emails previously released between Bergdahl and his parents show a clear disdain for America and, in particular, the American operation in Afghanistan of which he was a part. “The horror that is America is disgusting,” he wrote his parents the day before walking off his post, adding that the Afghan people “need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid.”
While Bergdahl’s condition is significant to public opinion of the Obama administration’s decision to trade him for five Guantánamo Bay detainees, USA Today reports that actions by the Obama administration, and not by Bergdahl himself, have been stronger drivers of public opinion than the circumstances behind Bergdahl’s initial capture. A USA Today/Pew Research poll finds that 43% of Americans believe President Obama was wrong to make the trade, while 34% approve of the choice. Opinion is split on Bergdahl himself, however: only 30% of Americans have a strong opinion of the soldier, but these are evenly split between those with a sympathetic and unfavorable view of him.
Bergdahl is currently in stable condition in a military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. Spokespersons for the military have said that Bergdahl is currently healthy enough physically to leave the institution, but requires significant mental health care and is not yet prepared to return to America.