Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl — who was captured and held prisoner by the Taliban for five years after abandoning his base in Afghanistan armed with only a knife — will be charged with “desertion” and “misbehavior before the enemy,” according to Army spokesman Col. Daniel King.
(Previously, Bergdahl was the subject of a definitive Rolling Stone profile, “America’s Last Prisoner of War” by the late Michael Hastings. Need a refresher? Read: 13 Things You Need to Know About Bowe Bergdahl.)
The decision to seek charges against Bergdahl comes nearly a year after his release last May, under a prisoner swap in which the U.S. handed five Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo over to the government of Qatar. The exchange sparked a political firestorm, inflamed by half-truths, misinformation, and FoxNews. (Read: Four Myths About the Bowe Bergdahl Swap That Must Be Destroyed.)
Have questions about Bergdahl’s charges? We have answers:
Q: Is Bergdahl getting court martialed?
A: Not yet. The Army will first bring the charges against Bergdahl before an Article 32 preliminary hearing. At his press conference today, Col. King compared this to a civilian grand jury process. Recommendations from the Article 32 hearing will determine whether the case is referred to a court martial.
Q: What is “Desertion,” exactly?
A: The key portion of the Uniform Code of Military Justice that the Army is seeking to charge Bergdahl under reads:
885. ART. 85. DESERTION
(a) Any member of the armed forces who…
(2) quits his unit, organization, or place of duty with intent to avoid hazardous duty or to shirk important service;
Q: OK, what about “Misbehavior Before the Enemy”?
A: The relevant portion of the UCMJ section reads:
899. ART. 99. MISBEHAVIOR BEFORE THE ENEMY
Any person… who before or in the presence of the enemy–
(1) runs away…
(3) through disobedience, neglect, or intentional misconduct endangers the safety of any such command, unit, place, or military property;
Q: Serious charges. So he’s a traitor, basically?
A: Nope. The military is not seeking to charge Bergdahl under anything more serious, like, “Aiding the Enemy.”
Q: If he’s tried and found guilty, will he be executed?
A: No. Under letter of the UCMJ, both charges Bergdahl faces could carry the death penalty, but the Army today made clear that this punishment is not on the table.
Executing soldiers for desertion is an anachronism. The last American soldier to be executed for desertion was 60 years ago, when Pvt. Eddie Slovick was brought before a firing squad near the conclusion of World War II. His stands as the lone execution for desertion since the Civil War.
Q: So what penalties can Bergdahl face?
A: The “maximum potential punishment” for both charges, according to Col. King, include “a dishonorable discharge, reduction to the rank of E-1, and total forfeiture of all pay and allowances.”
The desertion charge additionally carries can be punished with “a maximum confinement 5 years.” The misbehavior charge can be punished, Col. King said, by “possible confinement for life.”