Army Sgt. Bergdahl To Face General Court Martial, Possible Life Sentence For ’09 Desertion

Army Sgt. Bergdahl To Face General Court Martial
A top Army commander has decided that U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will face a general court martial stemming from his actions leading up to his capture by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009. Prosecutors say Bergdahl intentionally deserted his post and have charged him with the desertion and misbehaving before the enemy -- a count that carries a possible punishment of life imprisonment. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.

FORT BRAGG, N.C. Dec. 17, 2015-  (UPI) – U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl might spend the rest of his life in prison stemming from his desertion in Afghanistan six years ago — despite insistence from two military investigators that he has already been punished enough.

A top Army commander on Monday recommended that Bergdahl face a general court martial on charges of desertion, misbehavior and endangering troops for his actions in 2009, when the 29-year-old left his battalion and was ultimately captured and held prisoner by the for five years.

The referral by four-star Gen. Robert B. Abrams, commander of the Army’s Forces Command, to court martial Bergdahl surprised some — given that two Army investigators have, by this point, recommended against such punishment. One investigator said a jail sentence would be “inappropriate.”

Bergdahl disappeared from Yahya Kheyl in Paktika Province, located in eastern Afghanistan, on June 30, 2009. The Taliban took him prisoner and subsequently released propaganda videos depicting him in various states.

In May 2014, the Army sergeant was finally released in a trade brokered by the White House for five Taliban militants held at the Guantanamo Naval prison in Cuba.

Monday, Bergdahl’s main defense attorney, Eugene R. Fidell, criticized Abrams for advising the general court martial and said the Army general “did not follow the advice of the preliminary hearing officer who heard the witnesses.”

“We will continue to defend Sgt. Bergdahl as the case proceeds,” Bergdahl’s defense team added.

Abrams’ order came as a surprise to many since the Army’s main lawyer in charge of the Article 32 investigation, Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl, advised against prison and said he should not even be punished with a discharge. The maximum punishment under his recommendation would have been a year of confinement.

Dahl’s investigation noted that no American servicemen or women were killed in the five-year search for Bergdahl — refuting claims of critics — and there is no evidence to suggest the Idaho native colluded with the Taliban or expressed Taliban sympathies.

Fidell says another military officer during the preliminary stage, Lt. Col. Mark Visger, also recommended against prison.

Earlier this year, the Army charged Bergdahl with one count of desertion, misbehavior before the enemy, and endangering troops sent to find him. Fidell, though, argues that Bergdahl’s actions don’t warrant those charges, pointing to the fact that he was AWOL for just one day before he was captured by the enemy.

Fidell also claims that as a prisoner, Bergdahl did everything American soldiers are expected to do. Between 2009 and 2014, he attempted to escape multiple times and revealed nothing to his captors.

If convicted on the desertion charge, Bergdahl would face a maximum sentence of five years. Conviction on the misbehavior charge, though, allows for the life sentence.

Bergdahl, who currently serves at an Army base in San Antonio, will face the formal charges at an arraignment in the near future. No date has yet been set, but officials said it will be held at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Last week, Bergdahl talked about his ordeal in a rare interview with screenwriter Mark Boal for a podcast called The Serial. Boal has previously written scripts for the military-themed films The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty.

Military prosecutors can seek the death penalty for desertion, although Army officials have already said that’s off the table. No U.S. serviceman has been executed for desertion since World War II.


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