Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has been referred to the highest level of military court-martial, the Army said Monday. In other words, he will possibly face life sentence, despite recommendations given in September by Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl, the Army’s own investigating officer, who had declared that jail time would be “inappropriate”. His advice was not taken into account and Bergdahl now faces serious charges of desertion and misbehavior that led to endangerment of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Lt. Col. Mark Visger, who led the September preliminary hearing in Texas, had recommended a “special court-martial”, which is an intermediate tribunal where the maximum penalty would be a year of imprisonment. He remarked that the sergeant should not face jail time nor a punitive discharge.
After the decision was made by Gen. Robert B. Abrams, director of the Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., Sergeant Bergdahl’s chief defense lawyer, Eugene R. Fidell, said in a statement that Abrams had not followed the recommendations of the preliminary hearing officer who talked to the witnesses. Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School, had also previously advised not to refer the sergeant to a high-level court.
The 29-year-old soldier was serving in Afghanistan in 2009 when he walked off his post in June 30. He was captured by the Taliban within hours and a manhunt was launched to find him. In May 2014 President Barack Obama authorized trading Bergdahl for five Taliban prisoners who were at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. This decision was questioned by many Republicans and other objectors, who accused Bergdahl of being a defector and claimed that nearly ten American troops had died searching for him in the wild with little food and water.
Maj. Margaret Kurz, an Army prosecutor, commented at the Texas hearing that the search for Bergdahl in the weeks after he ran off had been too intense and pointless, arguing that thousands of soldiers were put at risk in the dirt and misery with almost no rest even though they knew the sergeant had left intentionally.
On the other hand, General Dahl, whose report constituted the base of the Army’s prosecution, clarified that no troops died precisely while searching for the sergeant and that there was no evidence to prove that he had intentions to walk to India or China or that he was supporting the Taliban.
Mr. Fidell argued that the accused had had the best behavior an American service man could have while in captivity, since he never revealed confidential information in spite of the cruel Taliban’s treatment. Besides, he tried to escape several times. Moreover, Fidell alleged that the Army was partially responsible because it enlisted Bergdahl even after he had failed a Coast Guard basic training due to an “adjustment disorder with depression”.