Bowe Bergdahl Will Face Desertion Charges, According To Conflicting Reports

UNDATED - In this undated image provided by the U.S. Army, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl poses in front of an American flag. U.S. officials say Bergdahl, the only American soldier held prisoner in Afghanistan, was exchanged for five Taliban commanders being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to published reports. Bergdahl is in stable condition at a Berlin hospital, according to the reports. (Photo by U.S. Army via Getty Images)
Source: U.S. Army/Getty Images News/Getty Images

It had been floated as a possibility from the very moment his freedom was secured, and now it's looking pretty certain — former Army soldier and Taliban captive Bowe Bergdahl will face desertion charges, according to multiple outlets, for having allegedly abandoned his unit in Afghanistan nearly five-and-a-half years ago. He was ultimately freed thanks to a prisoner swap with the Taliban, an action which was simultaneously lauded by Bergdahl's ardent supporters, and blasted by critics of the administration as reports swirled of his possible abandonment. Now, he'll apparently face the music, with senior defense officials confirming that desertion charges are coming, according to NBC News.

The news is not without some drama, however, as it's come with a denial from the Army. As reported by the Army Times, Forces Command spokesperson Paul Boyce insists that no decision has yet been made in Bergdahl's case, and that the possible desertion charges are still being weighed based on the evidence. Both following his release last year, and during a probe of his disappearance conducted while he was in captivity, it's been alleged that Bergdahl left his military outpost alone, potentially to avoid serving. If he is indeed charged and found guilty, it'd have a pretty major cost — he'd lose out on the hundreds of thousands of dollars of back pay he was owed for his time living under Taliban captivity, and would be ineligible for any further service-related benefits, according to Reuters.

Bergdahl, now 28 years old, was captured by the Taliban back in June 2009, beginning his long, five-year captivity. His release was eventually secured by the Obama administration in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay prisoners, colloquially known to the media as the "Taliban Five." In the years and months prior to his release, his plight had been something of a cause célèbre on the part of many conservative politicos and commentators — "leave no soldier behind," right? 

But after it actually happened, both thanks to the return price of the five prisoners, and swirling reports that Bergdahl may have left the post himself, the tide began to turn. In pretty short order, Bergdahl's release had become just another story for the American right to excoriate the administration and President Obama over, and desertion charges would undoubtedly bolster that criticism.

For now, it'll still be something of a wait-and-see situation. Obviously, the always necessary disclaimer: people are innocent until proven guilty. And trying to parse this kind of evidence may be tricky business for someone not as acquainted with the ins and outs of military regulation and behavioral standards — some reports since his release have even accused him of collaborating with the Taliban, an allegation that's vastly more dire. While it's possible that the Army's denial is correct, and that they're still in the process of deciding, there can be little doubt given the gravity of the allegations that the decision is going to have to go fully public eventually. In other words, you haven't heard the last of this, not by a long shot.




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