Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, a young American soldier who found himself in the hands of the Taliban and the Haqqani network for five long, hard years after voluntarily leaving his military base in Afghanistan, has been charged with desertion and “misbehaving before the enemy,” according to a U.S. Army spokesman during a press conference on Wednesday.
That is truly bad news for President Obama, who made a great show of his White House announcement about Bergdahl’s liberation, receiving Bergdahl’s parents and holding a press conference with them at his side. A downpour of criticism from the Republican ranks immediately hit the president at the time of young Bergdahl’s return, which was negotiated by the administration in exchange for the release of five prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. Barack Obama’s adversaries accused him of endangering national security by carrying out the swap despite the American tradition of not negotiating over hostages, and his adversaries were outraged at not having been consulted about the decision. Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice was gutted in the media for having defended Obama’s decision and for stating that the sergeant had served “with honor.”
A Lynch Mob Atmosphere, Per Bergdahl’s Lawyer
Obviously, the Army was not as convinced, since it decided to charge the young man. Bergdahl will appear before a military tribunal equivalent to a grand jury. This body will determine whether the case will then proceed to a court martial or whether it will simply be settled. If he is convicted of desertion and misbehaving before the enemy, Bergdahl could theoretically face a sentence of life in prison. He could be deprived of the wages the Army continued to pay him during his captivity. Or he could be forced to resign or face a reduction in rank.
The only American in uniform to be captured by rebels in Afghanistan, Bergdahl was reported missing from his post in the eastern part of the country in June 2009. Some soldiers posted with him stated that he left his unit voluntarily, endangering the soldiers who went looking for him.
Bergdahl’s attorney, Eugene Fidell, stated that Bergdahl is proud to wear the uniform but that he has become a scapegoat for those opposing the closure of the Guantanamo prison.
In any case, the controversy over his release risks flaring up again now that charges have been brought against him. The Obama team tried to strike back by stressing that the charges didn’t change the fact that he had to be brought home. “We don’t outsource our justice to the Taliban,” said a Defense Department official to The New York Times.
Fidell, the young soldier’s lawyer, denounced the lynch mob atmosphere surrounding his client, saying that justice should be allowed to run its course. Citing a report from Kenneth Dahl, who was in charge of questioning Bergdahl after his arrival at the Texas military base where he has remained over recent months, Fidell stressed that this document offered several conclusions that could help his client. Notably, the report concludes that Bergdahl had no intention of leaving the Army permanently. His motives, however, remain unclear.