Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will be charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy by endangering safety of command, unit or place, Col. Daniel King, a spokesman for Army Forces Command, announced Wednesday. Bergdahl faces a maximum penalty of life in prison for the latter charge. He left his post in Afghanistan in 2009 by his own free will, the Army says, and was later captured by Taliban militants, who held him until the summer of last year, when the U.S. freed five Taliban leaders who were being held at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for his release.
Bergdahl is being charged under Article 85 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for desertion and Article 99 of the same code for misbehavior before the enemy. While both of those charges potentially carry the death penalty, the Army did not say it would seek that sentence. The case will be handed over to a special preliminary military court likened to a grand jury inquiry, per Article 32 of the UCMJ.
The case will be convened at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, where Bergdahl was brought for medical and mental examination after his release. The case will then be either dismissed, forwarded to a general court-martial authority or forwarded to a special court-martial body, the Army spokesman said. The preliminary court could also take "any other action deemed appropriate."
Article 85 reads: "Any member of the armed forces who - (1) without authority goes or remains absent from his unit, organization, or place of duty with intent to remain away therefrom permanently; (2) quits his unit, organization, or place of duty with intent to avoid hazardous duty or to shirk important service; or (3) without being regularly separated from one of the armed forces enlists or accepts an appointment in the same or another one of the armed forces without fully disclosing the fact that he has not been regularly separated, or enters any foreign armed service except when authorized by the United States; is guilty of desertion... [and] shall be punished, if the offense is committed in time of war, by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct, but if the desertion or attempt to desert occurs at any other time, by such punishment, other than death, as a court-martial may direct."
Article 99 reads: "Any person subject to this chapter who before or in the presence of the enemy - (1) runs away; (2) shamefully abandons, surrenders, or delivers up any command, unit, place, or military property which it is his duty to defend; (3) through disobedience, neglect, or intentional misconduct endangers the safety of any such command, unit, place, or military property; (4) casts away his arms or ammunition; (5) is guilty of cowardly conduct; (6) quits his place of duty to plunder or pillage; (7) causes false alarms in any command, unit, or place under control of the armed forces; (8) willfully fails to do his utmost to encounter, engage, capture, or destroy any enemy troops, combatants, vessels, aircraft, or any other thing, which it is his duty so to encounter, engage, capture, or destroy; or (9) does not afford all practicable relief and assistance to any troops, combatants, vessels, or aircraft of the armed forces belonging to the United States or their allies when engaged in battle; shall be punished by death or such punishment as a court-martial may direct."
While the true nature of his disappearance was not confirmed by the U.S. government, criticism was widespread, particularly after it became known that six U.S. soldiers were killed in operations related to the search for Bergdahl. A number of Bergdahl's former Army colleagues have publicly criticized the 28-year-old Idahoan. The U.S. government and President Barack Obama's administration in particular came under intense pressure from critics to charge Bergdahl.