If Bowe Bergdahl Did Desert His Military Unit, He Could Be Jailed

Now that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been released from the Afghan Taliban in exchange for five dangerous Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, his fellow soldiers are claiming that Bergdahl voluntarily abandoned his unit and was captured. This has prompted the U.S. Army to investigate Bergdahl, who can now be interviewed upon his return to U.S. soil. In a statement, Army Secretary John McHugh says they will be “speaking with Sgt. Bergdahl to better learn from him, the circumstances of his disappearance and captivity.”

If Bergdahl is found to be a deserter, he could face five years in prison, according to Eugene R. Fidell, a Yale Law School professor. Fidell told NBC News that this planned investigation could just be a way to allow Congress and leaders of the U.S. Army time to cool off. But this may not happen anytime soon: Six soldiers were allegedly killed while looking for Bergdahl.

Congress has claimed President Barack Obama didn't give them enough time to mull the exchange. During a Poland news conference, Obama says he did speak with members of Congress about possibly negotiating Bergdahl's release, and defneded his decision to make the exchange. "Regardless of the circumstances, whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he's held in captivity," Obama says.

But a lot of people think the release of five Taliban detainees is too high of a price, considering the allegations surrounding how Bergdahl left his camp. In a 2010 formal investigation conducted by the Pentagon, it was determined that Bergdahl did, in fact, voluntarily leave his camp in 2009. While there were initial efforts to search for him, the military did not resort to any additional efforts to find and rescue Bergdahl.

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One of the soldiers who served in the same unit as Bergdahl believes he is a deserter. In a Daily Beast article published Monday, Nathan Bradley Bethea wrote:

There was no patrol that night. Bergdahl was relieved from guard duty, and instead of going to sleep, he fled the outpost on foot, He deserted. I've talked to members of Bergdahl's platoon, including the last Americans to see him before his capture. I've reviewed the relevant documents. That's what happened.
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So why would Bergdahl desert his unit in Afghanistan? Well, he allegedly became disillusioned with America's war efforts in Afghanistan; complained about changes to his battalion; and called the Army "the biggest joke the world has to laugh at." Bergdahl lso wrote emails to his parents about the issues he was struggling with. According to a 2012 Rolling Stone article, Bergdahl wrote:

The future is too good to waste on lies. And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be American. The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting.

Former Sgt. Matt Vierkant, who served in the same platoon as Bergdahl, told CNN that he "was pissed off then, and I am even more so now with everything going on. Bowe Bergdahl deserted during a time of war, and his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him."

According to TIME, these six men were killed during search efforts to find Bergdahl.

  • Private 1st Class Morris Walker, and Staff Sgt. Clayton Bowen: Killed in Paktika Province in August 2009 by a roadside bomb.
  • Private 1st Class Matthew Martinek, and 2nd Lt. Darryn Andrews: Taliban forces attacked their vehicle in early September 2009 with various weapons in Paktika Province. Andrews died, and Martinek was severely wounded, transported to a hospital in Germany, and died one week later.
  • Staff Sergeant Michael Murphrey: In Paktika Province, Murphrey died from wounds sustained from a homemade explosive device.
  • Staff Sgt. Kurt Curtiss: He was shot while helping Afghan units during an attack in Paktika Province.

At this point, it seems Bergdahl may not be charged with violations to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This is according to officials from the Pentagon, which indicates that being a POW is punishment enough.

According to to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel: "our first priority is assuring his well-being and his health, and getting him reunited with his family," Hagel told press. "Other circumstances that may develop and questions, those will be dealt with later."