TIME Military

Lawyer: Bergdahl ‘Deeply Grateful’ to Obama

Bergdahl Being Treated At U.S. Military Hospital In Germany
Bowe Bergdahl, who was held by the Taliban for nearly five years before being released in May. U.S. Army / Getty Images

Army sergeant held by Taliban believes President’s decision “saved his life,” his attorney Eugene Fidell tells TIME

No one’s heard anything yet from Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the former prisoner-of-war freed in a May 31 swap for five Taliban leaders after nearly five years as a Taliban prisoner. He hasn’t spoken to the press—by all accounts, he hasn’t even spoken to his parents. But, in typical American fashion, he has retained—and spoken to—an attorney.

“Sergeant Bergdahl is deeply grateful to President Obama for having saved his life,” Eugene Fidell, retained a week ago by the soldier, told TIME on Wednesday.

Fidell has traveled to Texas—where Bergdahl has returned to active duty at a desk job in San Antonio following his “re-integration” back into the service—to discuss with his client the investigation into the circumstances leading up to Bergdahl’s abduction in 2009. The attorney declined to offer any insights into Bergdahl’s mood, legal defense, or relationship with his family. Bergdahl also has an Army lawyer.

Eugene Fidell Yale

But Fidell did suggest the case—now being investigated by a two-star Army major general—is more complicated than he originally thought. That’s saying something: Fidell is a prominent military-law expert who lectures at Yale Law School on the topic, and former president of the National Institute of Military Justice.

“Before I was in the case, I was skeptical that the investigation called for a major general,” Fidell says. “I thought that a talented lieutenant colonel would be more than enough horsepower—I thought it was overkill.” Army officials say Major General Kenneth Dahl has yet to interview Bergdahl.

Fidell said he has changed his mind as he has dived into the case. “Based on what I now know about the complexity of the issues, which are in a number of spheres that I’m not going to get into, I understand why the Army thought that a general officer should be involved,” Fidell adds. “I now understand why management thought that it was a good idea to have a two-star officer doing this investigation.”

The lawyer, who has taken the case pro bono—without pay—declined to discuss the specifics that led him to change his mind. But Bergdahl’s case is complex: according to the soldiers with whom he served, Bergdahl simply walked away from his combat outpost in June 2009 before being captured by the Taliban along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Some of those troops have called Bergdahl a deserter, and alleged that fellow soldiers died hunting for him.

Questions also surround the Army’s decision to allow Bergdahl to enlist, two years after he washed out of Coast Guard boot camp after only 26 days. And lawmakers on Capitol Hill have criticized Obama for giving up five senior Taliban leaders for Bergdahl, now 28.

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., told TIME on Tuesday that he doesn’t believe the swap was in the nation’s interest. “We were duty bound to bring him back, but I think we’re duty bound to bring him back in the right way,” said the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness subcommittee. “What other opportunities were there for us to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s release besides releasing these five high-ranking Taliban officials?…we did increase the risk to Americans and American interests by releasing these five.”

Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said that Bergdahl is now free to come and go like any other soldier. “He’s free to leave base…he’s not under any particular restrictions,” Kirby said. “And I would remind you, he’s not been charged with anything.”

TIME Military

Navy Nurse Refuses Gitmo Force Feed Order

Guantanamo Hunger Strike
In this photo Nov. 20, 2013 file photo reviewed by the U.S. military, a U.S. Navy nurse stands next to a chair with restraints, used for force-feeding, and a tray displaying nutritional shakes, a tube for feeding through the nose, and lubricants, including a jar of olive oil, during a tour of the detainee hospital at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Charles Dharapak—AP

A detainee described the act as a conscientious objection

A Navy medical officer at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba has refused an order to continue force-feeding hunger-striking prisoners in what one detainee lawyer described as an act of conscientious objection.

“There was a recent instance of a medical provider not willing to carry-out the enteral feeding of a detainee. The matter is in the hands of the individual’s leadership,” a Pentagon spokesperson said in an email. “The service member has been temporarily assigned to alternate duties with no impact to medical support operations.”

It is the first known instance of a U.S. service member rebelling against the Pentagon’s force-feeding policy. An unknown number of the 149 detainees at Guantánamo’s Camp Delta have been on hunger strike for the past year and a half to protest their indefinite detention.

News of the refusal comes to the public by way of an attorney for one of the detainees, who, according to The Miami Herald, says his client described how some time before the Fourth of July a Navy medical nurse suddenly shifted course and refused to continue force-feeding prisoners. The nurse, he said, was abruptly removed from duty at the detention center. The attorney said his client described the nurse’s action as a conscientious objection.

The Herald reports that the prisoner who provided news of the incident described the nurse as a roughly 40-year-old Latino man most likely with the rank of lieutenant in the Navy.

Last year, civilian doctors writing for the New England Journal of Medicine declared that medical professionals taking part in force-feeding was unethical and called the Guantánamo medical staff to refuse to participate.

TIME Military

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl Is Venturing Off Base as Part of Reintegration

Bowe Bergdahl
This undated photo provided by the U.S. Army shows Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl AP

Held captive by the Taliban for five years, he's now being reintegrated with society

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the prisoner of war in Afghanistan who recently returned to the U.S. after five years of captivity, is regularly going off post to dine, shop and do other chores, according to Lieut. Colonel Carol McClelland.

“He’s been doing it for at least a week,” the Army spokeswoman tells TIME, adding that it was a normal component of his reintegration into society. On visits to San Antonio, he has been accompanied by members of his reintegration team, including a psychologist, according to the Associated Press.

Bergdahl, 28, was shifted last week to outpatient care at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. He was freed by the Taliban on May 31 in a prisoner exchange for five senior Taliban officials held at Guantánamo Bay, and arrived in the U.S. on June 13. He was initially being treated in the U.S. at Brooke Army Medical Center.

As part of the reintegration process, the Army is increasing his exposure to people and social settings incrementally. It’s still unknown if his parents, who has asked for privacy since Bergdahl’s return, has visited their son.

The Army is still investigating circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s departure from his outpost in June 2009 before his capture.

With reporting by Mark Thompson

TIME Pentagon

The $100 Billion Helicopter Dogfight

The AVX entry in the Pentagon's $100 billion chopper competition. AVX

The original story of David and Goliath took place on the ground, and involved five smooth stones. But there’s a new airborne version of that ancient Biblical tale involving a pair of Davids battling three Goliaths—and a chance to land up to $100 billion in Pentagon business.

It’s all because the Army is looking to revamp its helicopter fleet over the coming decades, replacing thousands of its trusted UH-60 Black Hawk and AH-64 Apache choppers with something that can fly heavier, faster and further: the trifecta of flight. The industry heavyweights—Bell Helicopter and a Boeing-Sikorsky team—are in the running.

But so are two pipsqueaks: AVX Aircraft and Karem Aircraft.

While Karem is offering a tilt-rotor design like the Bell-Boeing V-22 now being flown by the Marines, AVX’s entry is what’s called a compound coaxial helicopter. It has a pair of rotors spinning in opposite directions atop its carbon-fiber fuselage to lift it, and two ducted-fans at its rear end to push it.

The Army wants its next-gen chopper to be able to fly 265 mph (426 kph), 50% faster than a Black Hawk, and to travel 2,100 miles (3,400 km) from California to Hawaii on its own. And to be able to make that flight autonomously—with no pilot at the controls.

Both of the rotorcraft whippersnappers are run by aircraft heavyweights: AVX’s come from Bell, while Abe Karem is the engineer responsible for the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones, being built by another company.

These small bidders consist only of a relative handful of engineers and have no experience producing manned aircraft. But they seem to think of themselves more as designers and integrators who would buy the components they need from others, and perhaps team with a major partner for final assembly.

The U.S. military has upgraded its existing helicopter fleet for decades, but there is only so much improvement that can be bolted onto Reagan-era airframes. “We’ve never had the opportunity to start over fresh across [the Department of Defense] to bring a new fleet to bear that takes innovation into account,” the Army’s Dan Bailey said at a Tuesday briefing on the program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Army wants to buy up to 4,000 of the choppers beginning in the mid-2030s. It plans to narrow the four contenders down to perhaps two in about a month. If the Army scratches AVX and/or Karem from the program, they could team up with—or be bought by—one of the winners.

“It is thrilling to see how new ideas broad by a startup aircraft company, few people ever heard before, will stack-up against the arrogance of the U.S. defense establishment,” DefenceTalk.com said of AVX. “Competition cleans out inefficiency and incompetence, and the U.S. defense establishment is in need of it.”

There’s betting inside defense circles that the upstarts have scant chance against the combined clout and experience of Bell, Boeing and Sikorsky.

Of course, that’s how Chrysler, Ford and General Motors felt about newcomer Tesla, before Consumer Reports rated its battery-powered Model S the best car of the year in February.

TIME Innovation

A Look Inside the Home That Made “Life Easier” for a Marine Veteran Who Lost All His Limbs

From moving cabinets to remotely activated light switches, the home is designed to support a life of independence

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Retired Marine Sergeant John Peck lost all of his limbs when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan in 2010.

After he was once pronounced dead, spent three months in coma, and went through years in recovery, he came to live in a home built by the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. Peck worked with the foundation to design a home tailored to his individual needs. With high-tech features such as moving cabinets, tablet-controlled lighting and an automated shower, his house is an example of how smart homes can enable those who are disabled to be more self-sufficient.

“The house can’t really solve your problems, it can help make your life easier,” Peck said.

In the video above, Peck gives TIME a tour of his home – and shares his passion for cooking.

The former marine, who dreamed of becoming a chef ever since he was 12-years-old, is now re-learning how to cook, thanks to a prosthetic arm, an accessible cooktop and a relentless determination.

“The first time I cooked a meal in this house, it took a while. I made leek and potato soup,” Peck said. “It was definitely interesting to be able to make stuff and not need help.”

TIME Military

The Fall of the Green Berets’ Lawrence of Afghanistan

Major Jim Gant, center, with local Afghans and his soldiers in Afghanistan. One Tribe at a Time

Army removed officer for drugs, booze and his reporter “paramour”

Given the lackluster results of the U.S.-initiated wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans might want a military officer willing to break the rules to accomplish something on the ground in such faraway places. That someone might have been Army Green Beret Major Jim Gant, who was credited with winning his slice of the Afghan war in northeastern Kunar province until his career derailed after a love affair with a newspaper reporter who quit her job to live with him in Afghanistan.

The tale of Gant and former Washington Post reporter Ann Scott Tyson, is detailed in her recent book American Spartan: The Promise, the Mission and the Betrayal of Special Forces Major Jim Gant. She came to know Gant— who some described as “Lawrence of Afghanistan” for adopting local customs and exchanging his Army uniform for traditional Afghan garb, along with a full beard—while covering the war for the Post.

Gant, who won a Silver Star for valor in Iraq in 2006, had achieved notice for detailing his thinking on how the U.S. could prevail in Afghanistan in a 2009 paper, One Tribe at a Time. A copy had been found in Osama bin Laden’s quarters following his killing by U.S. forces in 2011, Tyson writes. There were notes in the margins about the difficulties al Qaeda was having in Kunar province, believed written by bin Laden. A second document, from bin Laden to his intelligence chief, named Gant, and said he “needed to be removed from the battlefield,” according to Tyson.

Gant and Tyson in Afghanistan. ABC/Ann Scott Tyson

Tyson first interviewed Gant when the Army awarded him that Silver Star, and wrote about him in a 2010 profile for her newspaper. The headline declared him “the Green Beret who could win the war in Afghanistan.”

Although each was in a failing marriage, the couple decided to live together amid Afghanistan’s mountains for nine months starting in mid-2011. Gant was running the war his way and “indulged in a self-created fantasy world” that mixed booze and drugs, according to the Army. He kept his relationship with Tyson hidden from his superiors. “We both knew that there was a lot of risk in doing what we did. And I would do it again,” Gant tells ABC News. “It was extremely unconventional, yes, to say the least.”

Gant’s extremely unconventional approach to war—and his unusual living arrangement with Tyson—led the Army to relieve him of command in 2012 after a freshly-minted lieutenant from West Point complained.

“There is a belief [in the Army] that you went COL Kurtz and went totally native,” an Army comrade wrote to Gant after he returned to Fort Bragg, N.C., according to Tyson’s book. Colonel Walter E. Kurtz was the rogue Green Beret officer played by Marlon Brando in 1979’s Apocalypse Now.

The Army—which had praised Gant’s approach to counter-insurgency by grooming local tribesman into police forces to oppose the Taliban—turned on him after internal investigations revealed some of his unusual counter-insurgency methods. Gant dealt with his PTSD and traumatic brain injury with alcohol, supposedly banned in Afghanistan for U.S. troops, and prescription drugs. And he endangered his troops, according to the Army:

During your time in command, you purposefully and repeatedly endangered the lives of your Soldiers…You painted inappropriate and unauthorized symbols on Government vehicles, painted the symbol on your vehicle a different color, then challenged the enemy to try and kill you without consideration to your Service Members’ lives or well being. You sent `night letters’ to the enemy, further drawing dangerous attention to yourself and subordinates. These are the same Soldiers that you have the duty to properly train, mentor, lead and most importantly, defend.

Yet Gant never lost a man, Tyson wrote. The service didn’t think much of his arrangement with her, either: “By providing his paramour unimpeded access to classified documents in a combat zone, MAJ Gant compromised the US mission in Afghanistan.”

Lieut. General John Mulholland, then-commanding general of the Army Special Operations Command (now the deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command), acknowledged Gant’s “record of honorable and valorous service” in a career-killing reprimand in July 2012. Gant’s conduct was “inexcusable and brought disrepute and shame to the Special Forces” and “disgraced you as an officer and seriously compromised your character as a gentleman.” He retired as a captain. The couple married last year.

But it wasn’t only Gant’s relationship with the Army that raised questions. Among reporters, so did Tyson’s relationship with Gant.

David Wood, a Pulitzer-winning veteran military correspondent, wrote a profile of the couple for the Huffington Post when Tyson’s book was published in March:

A once-promising strategy for stability in Afghanistan ended badly two years ago, along with the career of its author and chief proponent, Army Special Forces Maj. Jim Gant. His gripping story is detailed in a new book, American Spartan, by Ann Scott Tyson, the former Washington Post war correspondent who interviewed him for an admiring story in late 2009. They fell in love. Tyson eventually joined Gant in an Afghan village, where he built a reputation mobilizing local tribes against the Taliban. A tough, wiry Special Forces soldier, Gant was decorated and recommended for promotion over 22 continuous months of combat in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. But in the end, the iconoclasm and disdain for military protocol that enabled Gant’s success were instrumental in his eventual downfall.

Another veteran military reporter, David Axe, took issue with Woods’ story on Medium’s website:

In his Huffington Post profile, Wood helpfully promotes the book and attempts to rehabilitate a rogue officer who clearly possesses essentially zero regard for Islamic customs, military regulations and common sense…Most Green Berets don’t take their girlfriends, booze and drugs to war with them. They certainly don’t need lovers and gullible reporters to write elaborate defenses of their combat records. Gant is no hero. His behavior in Afghanistan was unacceptable. And no hagiography—by his wife or by Wood—can redeem the man’s shameful legacy.

But Gant’s real legacy isn’t so much about Afghanistan. It’s about the willingness of the U.S. military to tolerate officers who will challenge training and tradition in hopes of finding a better way to prevail. How far Gant crossed that line—and if it warranted the punishment he got—will be debated long after the final U.S. troops have left the country he tried to help.

TIME Military

Bowe Bergdahl Moves to Outpatient Care

Bergdahl Being Treated At U.S. Military Hospital In Germany
In this undated image provided by the U.S. Army, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl poses in front of an American flag. U.S. Army/Getty Images

Soldier freed in prisoner swap with Taliban continuing recovery

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been moved from a hospital to an outpatient care facility in Texas, the military said Sunday, as he continues to recuperate from five years in Taliban captivity.

Bergdahl, who was released May 31 in a deal that also freed five Taliban leaders, was being treated at Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio but is now at an outpatient facility at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. The military said Bergdahl is slowly being exposed to more people and increasing social interaction, with the hope that he can return to some semblance of normal life soon.

“His reintegration process continues with exposure to more people and a gradual increase of social interactions,” the Army said in a statement. “Debriefings and counseling from Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) psychologists continue to ensure he progresses to the point where he can return to duty.”

The Taliban captured Bergdahl in June 2009, after he intentionally left his outpost in Afghanistan in the middle of the night. Though many have called him a deserter, the Army is still investigating the circumstances of his departure from base.

TIME Thailand

A Yellow Shirt Leader Says the Thai Coup Was Planned in 2010

THAILAND-POLITICS-PROTEST
Thai policemen arrest a student for reading George Orwell's 1984 at a shopping mall in Bangkok on June 22, 2014 Pornchai Kittiwongsakul—AFP/Getty Images

Suthep Thaugsuban says coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha told him it was the army's "duty" to take over the task of opposing Yingluck Shinawatra's government

Planning for Thailand’s latest military coup began four years ago, according to the leader of antigovernment demonstrations that paralyzed Bangkok for six months and contributed to the ousting of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Suthep Thaugsuban, the firebrand chief of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) — the main Yellow Shirt protest group — revealed to a fundraising dinner over the weekend that he and Thai Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha had been discussing how to purge Thailand of the influence of powerful Shinawatra ever since deadly political violence erupted in 2010.

The Bangkok Post quoted Suthep as saying, “Before martial law was declared [on May 20], General Prayuth told me ‘Khun Suthep and your masses of PDRC supporters are too exhausted. It’s now the duty of the army to take over the task.’”

Suthep is a former Deputy Prime Minister for the Establishment-backed Democrat Party. The 64-year-old has murder charges pending relating to a crackdown on pro-Thaksin Red Shirt protesters he ordered in 2010 that claimed at least 90 lives and left more than 2,000 injured, and he is seen as being closely aligned with elite institutions such as the military, judiciary and royal court. However, he now claims that he will retire from politics and that the PDRC “will function like a nongovernmental organization that will carry out research.”

The crackdown on opposition to the May 22 coup continues. On Sunday, eight people were arrested outside the capital’s Siam Paragon mall — one for reading George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984, copies of which have become symbols of the protest movement. Others were arrested for holding sandwiches, which have also become a tongue-in-cheek pro-democracy prop.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand has not responded to requests for clarification from TIME regarding whether foreign visitors should refrain from bringing 1984 into the country.

Meanwhile, eminent American linguist and political commentator Noam Chomsky has expressed support for dissident Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies. Like other prominent Thai critics of the coup living overseas, Pavin is wanted by the regime and has been threatened with two years in prison if he does not surrender.

“I am deeply disturbed to learn about the threats against Professor Pavin Chachavalpongpun,” said Chomksy. “I hope that they will be quickly withdrawn, as they should be, and that he will be free to visit his family and resume his life without government repression.”

TIME Military

Honoring the Old Guard As Arlington National Cemetery Turns 150

The Old Guard, or the 3rd U.S. infantry regiment, is the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the Army and conducts ceremonies and memorial affairs to honor fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery

TIME White House

Air Force One Due For A Replacement

The U.S. government is reportedly eyeing a new presidential aircraft, as the current one nears the age of 30

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The current Air Force One will turn 30 in 2017, and the new president might get a new jetliner, CNN reported.

The plane—one of the most recognizable symbols of the U.S. presidency—is due for a replacement. Part command center, part method of transportation, the plane must be able to travel anywhere in the world, land at big and small airports, and have defense capabilities.

Capable of refueling midair, Air Force One has unlimited range and is equipped with hardened on-board electronics to protect against an electromagnetic pulse, Bloomberg said.

The plane has been at the center of many landmark events in decades past. After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as the next president on board the plane, and more recently, George W. Bush used today’s version, a modified Boeing 747, to fly back to Washington on 9/11.

 

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