Statesman Editorial: Trump demonizing Bergdahl erodes sense of justice

There are a long list of things GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump would have to learn — and purge — before the American people could ever trust him to govern anything bigger than his TV boardroom.

We hope one of them is the principle in the U.S. justice system that defendants are innocent until proven guilty.

On the night of the first televised GOP debate Trump referred to Hailey, Idaho’s Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl as a “traitor” — as if Trump himself had personal knowledge of all the circumstances the night Bergdahl walked away from his unit in Afghanistan back in 2009. Bergdahl was held captive for five years.

Hoping to further capitalize on the situation Trump doubled down on Bergdahl at a town hall gathering a few weeks later in New Hampshire. Trump called Bergdahl a “dirty rotten traitor,” according to an Associated Press story, and lambasted President Barack Obama’s decision in 2014 to release five Taliban leaders for Bergdahl in a prisoner exchange.

Trump also said, according to AP, that:

• The five Taliban leaders who were released were now “back on the battlefield.”

• Six U.S. troops died while searching for Bergdahl.

We understand some soldiers who served with Bergdahl have a terrible opinion of him — but none of them is out on the campaign trail, as Trump is, pretending to have such inside knowledge. Trump is no Forrest Gump. He wasn’t there.

Yet Trump has found it irresistible to fling red meat hearsay to his followers by saying Bergdahl is a dirty rotten traitor who is somewhat responsible for the deaths of six U.S. troops and the release of Taliban soldiers who are back in the fight ready to kill more Americans.

We agree Trump can have his own opinions, but not his own facts. Bergdahl has yet to be convicted of anything. Still in the Army, he remains innocent until proven guilty. The five Taliban leaders are not back in the fight — they remain under travel restriction in Qatar, AP reports. Bergdahl’s attorney, Eugene Fidell, says Army prosecutors have told him “they will not offer any evidence that anyone died looking for his client.” Before he left office, former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said there was no evidence to connect the death of soldiers to a search for Bergdahl.

We think Fidell has a legitimate grievance when he says Trump’s bombastic comments could hamper his client’s ability to get a fair trial.

Next month Bergdahl will face a preliminary hearing on the very serious charges against him. If convicted, Bergdahl should have to face any commensurate discipline.

Also next month, Trump will face another GOP debate (Sept. 16 on CNN at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.) where we hope he faces a hearing on his reckless statements about all of the matters surrounding Bergdahl. We hope someone asks him to re-enact his town hall stunt with his imaginary rifle and to explain his remarks: “In the old days, bing, bong.”

We think Trump has confused some realities about justice with scripts of his old TV show. He doesn’t get to fire people out here. He’s not the judge, the jury as he was on “The Apprentice.”

He’s just another man of means with a platform using his fleeting moment in the political limelight to spread a crock full of gossip at the expense of someone who at least deserves justice without having to become a Trump demon on the campaign trail.

We much prefer Bergdahl be judged on evidence — not by the next foul or misinformed thing that comes out of the mouth of Donald Trump.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.