Former U.S. war prisoner Bergdahl faces possible life in prison

Ex-U.S. war prisoner U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is charged with desertion, misbehavior.

FORT BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA, UNITED STATES (MARCH 25, 2015) (NBC) – U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, a former Taliban prisoner in Afghanistan, was formally charged on Wednesday (March 25) with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of the most serious count, the Army said.

Bergdahl, 28, was released from Taliban custody last summer in a controversial prisoner swap that saw five Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, transferred to Qatar, where they were required to remain for a year.

Bergdahl disappeared on June 30, 2009, from Combat Outpost Mest-Lalak in Paktika Province in eastern Afghanistan and was subsequently captured. He disappeared from the outpost early one morning after doing guard duty. It became apparent he was missing when he failed to show up for roll call, but his gun, ammunition and body armor had been left behind.

An initial wave of euphoria over Bergdahl’s release was followed by a backlash among U.S. lawmakers angry because they were not given 30 days notice before the transfer of the Guantanamo prisoners, as required by law. Some of Bergdahl’s former Army comrades said they believed he deserted his post.

The case has been under review by General Mark Milley, head of U.S. Army Forces Command, who was asked to look at the circumstance surrounding Bergdahl’s capture.

As a result of the review, Bergdahl was charged with desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty and misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place, an Army spokesman said at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where Milley is based.

The desertion charge carries a maximum prison term of five years, while the misbehavior count carries a maximum term of life in prison, he said.

Bergdahl currently has an administrative role in an office at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where the Article 32 investigation is scheduled to take place. A spokeswoman at the base said it would be up to the lawyers to determine what would happen to Bergdahl now that he has been charged.

Bergdahl’s attorney, Eugene Fidell of Yale Law School, said the Army had scheduled an Article 32 investigation, similar to a ground jury proceeding in civilian law, to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to proceed with a court-martial on the charges. The initial hearing is set for April 22, he said.