Army Sargent Bowe Bergdahl, who was held in captivity in Pakistan and whose release set off a firestorm of controversy owing to a contentious prisoner swap for five high-ranking Taliban militants, has been officially charged with desertion and misbehaving before the enemy by the Department of the Army. An Article 32 preliminary hearing under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) will be held at Fort Sam Houston in Texas; Article 32 is the legal proceeding which determines if the charges levied against a defendant merit referral to a court martial.
Bergdahl disappeared on the evening of June 30, 2009, and while accounts varied concerning his disappearance, he was classified as Missing in Action (MIA) until July 18, 2009, when the Haqqani network, a militant group loosely associated with the Taliban, released a video affirming Bergdahl was in their custody. Over the next five years, the Haqqani network released several videos and still images of Bergdahl and insisted on negotiations for his release, which included a one-million dollar payment and the release of Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay Detention Center.
After exhaustive negotiations and a vexed exchange for five Taliban terrorists, known as the “Taliban Five,” Bergdahl was freed on May 31, 2014.
These charges parrot the amateur sleuthing of numerous Americans and some members of the media; the charges also confirm the deep suspicions of members of Bergdahl’s unit. It has been long speculated, due to Bergdahl’s activity, demeanor and e-mail correspondence with his parents, Bergdahl did indeed desert his post in 2009. Equally troubling, the search for Bergdahl, conducted by the Army and motivated by the notion “we don’t leave anyone behind,” led to the loss of several men and numerous others being wounded during combat operations and the continuing search for their missing comrade-in-arms.
This case, of course, is complicated, and will resurrect comparisons to the refusal to pay ransom for journalists who were later beheaded and is certain to unearth outrage for the release of the high-risk, high-value “Taliban Five” from custody, all for a man who now is charged with desertion and betrayed his country.
Despite the jubilation over the return of a serviceman held in captivity, Americans do not like cutting deals with terrorists and were uncomfortable with the circumstances surrounding the Bergdahl exchange. The White House is now certain of facing a vortex of criticism for overriding the intelligence community and the Pentagon, both of which successfully battled to prevent the release of the “Taliban Five” for several years until Bergdahl’s release.
Bergdahl will face judgement; however, his gift of freedom has had an immeasurable cost.
[Washington Post] [The Daily Beast]