The Ransom/Hostage Question

Especially in light of the beheading of Global Post reporter James Foley by an ISIS Muslim butcher in Syria a few days ago, the question of ransoms-for-cash (or anything else) deserves attention. Some believe the U.S. government should have made an effort, and, indeed, the ISIS gang had offered Foley up for $132.5 million, according to reports (probably untrue). The Global Post was in the process of trying to come up with $5 million, sort of the going rate for ransoms these days but ISIS is said to be loaded with cash and probably meant to kill Foley anyway.

President Obama had no problem giving up five Muslim butchers from Gitmo earlier this year for the freedom of Bowe Bergdahl, promoted to sergeant while in “captivity” (or whatever his status was) accruing to his connection with Afghan rebels for five years or so. Bergdahl, according to reports, shipped his personal stuff home, dumped his military gear in his living facility and in front of witnesses simply walked away from camp with no obvious intent to return to the U.S. Army. Either that, or he was dumb as a gourd to take a solo walk downtown, or down-village, armed or unarmed.

Concerning army regulations, Bergdahl committed desertion but was heartily welcomed home by Obama and is treated royally in Texas. Reportedly, six fellow GIs were killed in the search for Bergdahl in Afghanistan. He's been considered a prisoner-of-war by some though he was not taken prisoner in any action and, anyway, the U.S. is not in a declared war. If it were and Bergdahl judged to be a deserter, he would be subject to the death penalty.

At least two desertion protocols that apply to Bergdahl are, (1) If a member deserted, but voluntarily returned to military control: Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and confinement for two years. (2) If the member deserted with the intent to avoid hazardous duty or to shirk important service (an example of this would be a member ordered to deploy to Iraq and then deserts to avoid the deployment): Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and confinement for 5 years.

In the warm-fuzzy political-correctness atmosphere of today, Bergdahl, deserter or not, will probably escape unharmed and may even get his back pay ($200,000) plus appropriate perks such as housing allowances amounting to some $150,000 or so—total: around $350,000. According to fellow soldiers, Bergdahl deserted; however, he returned voluntarily (or was he even asked?) in taking part in the Gitmo swap. That would seem to accrue to (1) above.

If he actually deserted account dodging his duty and showed up back home due to the U.S. grabbing him (actually bartering for him), Number (2) would seem to apply, though Bergdahl is reportedly looking forward to an imminent discharge anyway and “getting on with his life.” It remains to be seen whether that happens or he winds up penniless in the stockade or some federal prison for five years.

His legal eagles (available in military, also) may take the PTSD route for him or simply try to prove he was insane when he walked out of camp. He had joined the Coast Guard previously but left after only 26 days of boot camp and was given an “uncharacterized discharge” with no specifics. He may come clean strictly on the basis of the fact that he should never have been in the army in the first place...with $350,000 in the bargain.

If he was unfit and improperly vetted (both possible), the government may owe him because it owns him. If he was just clever, the same applies and rescue was appropriate. This is not the case with Foley, for whom the Global Post, if any entity other than himself, was responsible, and not the government.

CBS reporter Lara Logan claimed she was gang-raped during the celebrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square in early 2011 but she didn't have to be there, just as Foley didn't have to be in Syria. The president authorized an unsuccessful operation to rescue Foley and some others but in doing so he merely put the safety of civilians above that of American GIs. They could all have been killed.

Civilians entering danger-zones on their own, especially after being warned away, should not be eligible for always-risky rescue-by-government. This is the difference between the Foley case and President Carter's failed attempt to rescue U.S.-embassy personnel in Teheran in 1979.

And so it goes.
Jim Clark