Bergdahl ‘faces desertion charge’

Published: Wednesday 25th March 2015 by The News Editor

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The US army sergeant who abandoned his post in Afghanistan and was held captive by the Taliban for five years will be court-martialed on charges of desertion and avoiding military service, a US official said.

Sgt Bowe Bergdahl will also be charged with misbehaviour before the enemy, said the official.

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 US 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 US 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 US 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 US military hospital in Germany, Bergdahl was sent to Brooke Army Medical Centre 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 US should have released the five Taliban members, who could return to the battlefield.

Senator Lindsey 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 case was referred to General Mark Milley, head of US Army Forces Command, and he has been reviewing the massive report for several months. He had a broad range of legal options.

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

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.

Published: Wednesday 25th March 2015 by The News Editor

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