Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban in June 2009, will face a general court-martial. He has been charged with desertion and endangering troops in connection to what the military has said was a deliberate attempt to leave his station. What happens to Bergdahl next will likely be the culmination of years of mounting evidence, which seem to place much of the blame for his capture squarely on the 29-year-old's own shoulders.
According to Gen. Robert B. Abrams, head of Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the official charges levied against Bergdahl include "Desertion with Intent to Shirk Important or Hazardous Duty" and "Misbehavior before the Enemy by Endangering the Safety of a Command, Unit or Place." A date for Bergdahl's arraignment has not yet been specified.
"I had hoped the case would not go in this direction," Bergdahl's lawyer Eugene Fidell said in a statement Monday. "We will continue to defend Sgt. Bergdahl as the case proceeds." Fidell also took the opportunity to urge Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to cease his attacks on Bergdahl. (Trump told attendees at a rally in October that the army sergeant was a "no-good traitor," and implied that he should have been executed for his desertion.) "We again ask that Donald Trump cease his prejudicial months-long campaign of defamation against our client," Fidell wrote.
With officials sorting through the mountains of evidence against Bergdahl, attention is now focused on the details surrounding his alleged desertion. Despite supportive Article 32 testimony from Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl, who stated that Bergdahl had been trekking to a larger Army base to report to his superior officers when he was captured, and that prison would be inappropriate, it's more than likely that Bergdahl will eventually face some sort of jail time.
Official timelines offered up by the military show that Bergdahl, who had previously tried his luck at entering the U.S. Coast Guard before being discharged 26 days into basic training for unspecified reasons, first went missing on June 30, 2009. Two and a half weeks later, on July 18, the Taliban released a video featuring Bergdahl in which he stated, "Please, please bring us home so that we can be back where we belong and not over here, wasting our time and our lives and our precious life that we could be using back in our own country."
In a second video, released Christmas Day that year, Bergdahl is seen pleading for an end to the War in Afghanistan. "This is just going to be the next Vietnam unless the American people stand up and stop all this nonsense," he said. After five years of political and bureaucratic back and forth, Bergdahl was finally rescued in a prisoner exchange between the United States and the Taliban on May 31, 2014. The Obama administration swapped five top Taliban commanders for him.
Compounding the evidence against Bergdahl was testimony from members of his own platoon, who claimed to have seen him leave his guard duty post the night of June 30, remove his weapons, and walk off with only a compass, a knife, a camera, water, and his diary. Nathan Bradley Bethea, a fellow soldier, later wrote in a Daily Beast column that members of Bergdahl's platoon had "discovered his rifle, helmet, body armor and web gear in a neat stack." Another soldier, Cody Full, told The New York Times that Bergdahl had "sent all his belongings home — his computer, personal items." For all intents and purposes, they agreed, it had not seemed as though Bergdahl was planning to return.
Although it's unclear what sort of evidence the court-martial will drudge up against Bergdahl, eyewitness testimony from former soldiers alone could seal his fate. At the very least, Bergdahl could potentially be facing a maximum punishment of five years in prison for the desertion charge, and "confinement for life as well as a dishonorable discharge, reduction in rank to E-1, and forfeiture of pay and allowances" for the misbehavior charge.
"For 45 days, thousands of soldiers toiled in the heat, dirt, misery and sweat with almost no rest, little water and little food to find the accused," Army prosecutor Maj. Margaret Kurz said during a Texas hearing in September, scolding Bergdahl for trying to "to bring attention to himself" in order to win a private audience with the general to air his complaints. "Fatigued and growing disheartened, they search for the accused knowing he left deliberately."