Tags: Bowe Bergdahl | desertion

Bowe Bergdahl Charged With Desertion

By    |   Wednesday, 25 March 2015 03:51 PM

U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured and held by the Taliban and its allies in Afghanistan for five years, has been charged with desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty and misbehavior before the enemy, the Army announced Wednesday. 

The case has been referred for a preliminary hearing that’s equivalent to a grand jury in the military’s court-martial system, according to an Army statement.

Bergdahl was also charged with misbehavior before the enemy, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the announcement on the record and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The charges are the latest development in a long and bitter debate over Bergdahl's case, and underscore the military and political ramifications of his decision on June 30, 2009, to leave his post after expressing misgivings about the U.S. military's role, as well as his own, in the Afghanistan war.

Desertion can carry a maximum penalty of death, but most military officials have said they believe that is not likely in this case.

The U.S. military planned an announcement at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, which is expected to include the location of the court-martial.

After leaving his post, Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban and held by members of the Haqqani network, an insurgent group tied to the Taliban that operates both in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Last May 31, Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. special forces in Afghanistan as part of an exchange for five Taliban commanders who were imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

After spending about two weeks recuperating at a U.S. military hospital in Germany, Bergdahl was sent to Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in Texas on June 13. He has been doing administrative duties at the base, awaiting the conclusion of the case.

The exchange set off a debate over whether the U.S. should have released the five Taliban members, who could return to the battlefield.

Sen. Lindsay Graham has said he had information that one of the five has already been in touch with members of the Haqqani network. All five are being monitored in Qatar.

The five detainees released were:

  • Abdul Haq Wasiq, who served as the Taliban deputy minister of intelligence.
  • Mullah Norullah Nori, a senior Taliban commander in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif when the Taliban fought U.S. forces in late 2001.
  • Khairullah Khairkhwa, who served in various Taliban positions including interior minister, and had direct ties to Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden.
  • Mohammed Nabi, who served as chief of security for the Taliban in Qalat, Afghanistan, and later worked as a radio operator for the Taliban's communications office in Kabul.
  • Mohammad Fazl, who Human Rights Watch says could be prosecuted for war crimes for presiding over the mass killing of Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001 as the Taliban sought to consolidate their control over the country.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., a member of the Armed Services Committee, was asked by reporter Wednesday whether the charges raised doubts about the initial trade of Bergdahl for the Taliban members.

"I would think that it would raise doubts in the mind of the average American if those doubts weren't raised already," Wicker said.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl investigated the Bergdahl case, and spent months interviewing unit members and commanders, and meeting with Bergdahl and his attorney, Eugene Fidell, a military justice expert who is also a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School. He submitted his report in mid-October, setting in motion a legal review on his report and how the Army can proceed.

The case was referred to Gen. Mark Milley, head of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, and he has been reviewing the massive report for several months. He had a broad range of legal options.

Milley could have decided not to charge Bergdahl at all, recommend administrative action or convene a court-martial on more serious offenses.

Some within the military have suggested that Bergdahl's long capture was punishment enough, but others, including members of his former unit, have called for serious punishment, saying that other service members risked their lives — and several died — searching for him.

A major consideration was whether military officials would be able to prove that Bergdahl had no intention of returning to his unit — a key element in the more serious desertion charges.

In January, retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, predicted on Newsmax TV's "The Steve Malzberg Show" that Bergdahl would be charged with desertion.

"There was evidence that Bowe Bergdahl did indeed essentially leave his duty post during time of war … otherwise known as desertion," Shaffer told Malzberg.

"Based on what I've been told is in the report, it would be very difficult for anybody who's rational to come away with any other conclusion other than that Sgt. Bergdahl did violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice by deserting his post during a time of war," he said.

Material from The Associated Press, Reuters and Newsmax archives was used in the report.

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Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who abandoned his post in Afghanistan and was held by the Taliban for five years will be court martialed on charges of desertion and avoiding military service, according multiple reports.
Bowe Bergdahl, desertion
Wednesday, 25 March 2015 03:51 PM
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