No official confirmation yet from either the White House or the Defense Department, but NBC News is quoting senior Defense officials as saying Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will be charged with desertion within a week:
According to the officials, the desertion charges would be based on allegations that Bergdahl abandoned his remote outpost in June 2009 to avoid hazardous duty or important service, which are grounds for charges of desertion under the Uniform Military Code of Justice, (UCMJ). According to one senior official, Bergdahl’s actions in Afghanistan go well beyond the lesser offense of AWOL, absent without leave, because he allegedly abandoned his post “in the middle of a combat zone, potentially putting the lives of his fellows soldiers at risk.”
The charges will apparently not allege that Bergdahl left with the intent never to return. Bergdahls was reportedly captured by the Haqqani terrorist network in Pakistan. He was released in a prisoner swap for five Taliban commanders held at Guantanamo Bay in May.
While a court martial could lead to imprisonment, defense and military officials tell NBC News it is likely Bergdahl would be given consideration for the 5 years he spent in captivity and be permitted to leave the Army with a “less than honorable discharge.” If accepted, Bergdahl would be denied as much as $300 thousand in back pay and bonuses, and reduced in rank to at least Private First Class, the rank he held when he disappeared from his outpost in Afghanistan.
More than half a year after his Memorial Day release in a swap with the Taliban, the Defense Department referred Bergdahl’s case to a General Courts Martial Convening Authority just before Christmas.
Gen. Mark Milley, commanding general of Forces Command, “will determine appropriate action – which ranges from no further action to convening a court martial,” the Pentagon said in a brief statement then, adding that “a thorough investigation and a comprehensive legal review” had been conducted.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said the five Taliban traded for Bergdahl’s release “are in Qatar but they are scheduled to go back to Afghanistan.”
“And that’s the real worry that some many of us have had,” Ayotte told Fox. “The issue really is that what’s the price being put on American lives, number one, we now are going to have a pattern where people are being asked to be traded — you have ISIS also saying for certain individuals, we want terrorists released in exchange for some of the prisoners we have. And so it gets us down this slippery slope and Qatar, of course, in the middle of this, Qatar is where the Taliban Five were transferred to and where from there they will be returning to Afghanistan.”
UPDATE: A Forces Command spokesman tells Army Times that no decision has been made, despite reports from NBC and Fox. Bergdahl’s attorney refused to comment.