Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who spent five years in captivity and was recovered in Afghanistan last spring, will face charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Officials revealed the charges at a press conference at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
The Army will hold an Article 32 hearing, similar to a civilian grand jury inquiry, to decide whether or not the solder will be court martialed. The specific charges are “desertion with the intent to shirk important or hazardous duty” and “misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command unit or place.” Bergdahl potentially faces dishonorable discharge, reduction in rank, total forfeiture of payment and imprisonment for up to five years for the desertion charge and confinement for life for the misbehavior charge. The specific details for the hearing will be announced at a later date.
Following the Army’s announcement, Bergdahl’s civilian lawyer released a statement. In his portion of the note, which The Washington Post published, Bergdahl described in often graphic detail the ways in which he suffered while in Taliban captivity in his own words.
“I was kept in constant isolation during the entire five years, with little to no understanding of time, through periods of constant darkness, periods of constant light, and periods of completely random flickering of light, and absolutely no understanding of anything that was happening beyond the door I was held behind,” he wrote.
He also described the inhumane ways in which he was held captive, with little food and water and with chains fastened tightly around him even though he was in a cage at one point. “The lowest point came in the winter of the end of the first year, my bodyweight having dropped to the point that my ribs and joints [protruded] clearly, my skin losing all signs of fat and my muscles from atrophy, reducing to thin tight cords or bumps that did barely to support me or keep my joints in place,” he wrote. At one juncture, he describes needing to “push the pus” out of wounds beneath his wrist shackles daily. He described escape attempts, which often ended with brutal beatings, as well as the psychological torment he endured.
“I was continuously shown Taliban videos,” he wrote. “Told I was going to executed. Told I was never going back. Told I would leave the next day, and the next day told I would be there for 30 years. Told was going to die there. Told to kill myself. Told I would have my ears and nose cut off, as well as other parts of my body.”
Although Bergdahl didn’t address why he parted ways with his troops in his lengthy statement, which is posted in full on The Washington Post’s website, his lawyer made what CNN suggested was meant to illustrate just how much Bergdahl suffered in captivity and that he did not cooperate with the Taliban as part of his defense. The attorney wrote that he would reveal more if the case went to an open trial.
The 28-year-old Bergdahl, whom Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings profiled in a 2012 article titled “America’s Last Prisoner of War,” went missing in 2009 when he abandoned his troop’s barracks and was held captive by the Taliban until May 2014. The Pentagon revealed last December that Commander of Army Forces Command Gen. Mark Milley would be the one to “determine appropriate action – which ranges from no further action to convening a court-martial.” The Washington Post reports that the soldier received the charge sheet yesterday.
Milley has considered a number of legal options, according to The Associated Press, including various degrees of desertion charges. The Army will not make Milley’s findings public, out of respect for the legal process, rights of the accused and to ensure fairness.
The Army would have to prove that Bergdahl had no intention of returning to his troop in order to argue the desertion charge, AP reports.
After enlisting in the Army in 2008, Bergdahl began a tour in Afghanistan. He left his troop as a private first class, equipped with only a knife, a diary, a digital camera and water and was captured the next day by the Taliban. The military negotiated his release years later as part of a prisoner exchange for five Taliban officials who had been held in Guantánamo Bay. The New York Times reports Bergdahl has been carrying out administrative duties at Fort Sam Houston in Texas since then.
Additional reporting by Cady Drell